The winter months, when day light lingers for a shorter time and temperatures drop, make natural times for gathering, for getting together with friends and family. This is the time of holidays and celebrations across many faith and cultural traditions. Winter is, then, a natural time for the giving and receiving of gifts. Whether your gift recipients travel through imagination or on physical journeys, music is a gift they will enjoy taking along. Here are ideas:
If you’ve someone on your gift list who enjoys classical music, Nicola Benedetti’s recording Homecoming will make an interesting gift. Benedetti is an award winning classical violinist; she’s also a native Scot. She wanted to create a project honoring her native country. An adventurous path she chose for it too. Max Bruch’s classical composition Homecoming: A Scottish Fantasy translates themes from several Scottish folk songs. Benedetti also plays songs from Robert Burns and the well known Loch Lomond in orchestral settings. Brilliantly done, yes, but maybe choices you’d expect. What’s unexpected: the tracks where Benedetti joins up with Scotland’s top folk musicians — fiddlers Duncan Chisholm and Aly Bain, accordion and keyboard player Phil Cunningham, bassist Ewan Vernal, bouzouki player Eamon Doorley, and Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis— for thoughtful versions of traditional and contemporary folk music. Combining folk and classical idioms does not always work, but across this whole collection it works brilliantly, and in unexpected ways.
If your gift list includes people who enjoy country, bluegrass, blues, and maybe even gospel, three recordings to consider — and that they may not have heard — are Jayme Stone’s Folklife, Freedom Highway from Rhiannon Giddens, and The Beautiful Not Yet by Carrie Newcomer.
Jayme Stone loves to find older folk songs and see what they say to present day musicians, and what those musicians will say with them to present day listeners. His instrument is the banjo. Singer and accordion player Moira Smiley, fiddler Sumala Jackson, and bassist Joe Phillips form a core group with Stone for Jayme Stone’s Folklife as they explore songs arising from the Carolinas to the Caribbean.
Freedom Highway from Rhiannon Giddens is, most times, rather more somber. In it, the North Carolina born artist explores aspects of the African American experience in voices both new and from across history. It’s a recording to listen to for what is said, and for what is not. That might make it seem a bleak or dispiriting piece. It’s not. It is rather a collection which shows a gifted artist’s take on ways to connect history and present day.
Indiana based Carrie Newcomer has been, across more than a dozen recordings now, exploring the sacred within the ordinary. That is a many faceted subject, and a process which allows her to reflect both directly and indirectly on change, both political personal. Change is very present the songs of The Beautiful Not Yet, from the uplifting anticipation of the title track to the song A Shovel Is a Prayer, in which Newcomer invites her listeners to think about how we frame things, to the song Sanctuary, which offers recognition and hope when changes hit hard.
Are there people on your gift list who are celebrating Hannukkah? Music from the Forgotten Kingdom, by the Guy Mendilow Ensemble, could work for them. It draws on stories and songs from Ladino Jewish communities in the Balkans and around the Mediterranean.
Kids on your gift list? For the younger ones, Matt Heaton’s Happy You Made It offers original, often funny, inclusive songs that teach good values along the way.
Ranky Tanky from Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem does that too, with, a big helping of songs you can dance and sing along with — parent and child both. Further about music for parents and children in this story.
Looking for gifts for people who love the Celtic lands? Cara Dillon, who comes from Northern Ireland, has a lovely new album out called Wanderer, in which she explores ideas of travel and seeking home. Rising Scottish singer Robyn Stapleton has her own take on Songs of Robert Burns, and a fine one it is, including well known songs and less familiar ones. Danu, whose members come from across the island of Ireland, explore song and tune both contemporary and traditional, on their album Buan.
How about seasonal music? Fine Winter’s Night by Matt and Shannon Heaton combines original and traditional song and tune, from the twelfth century Wexford Carol to an original about Victorian era Boston. Cherish the Ladies have recorded three Christmas albums, each different, each very good choices for those on your holiday list who love Christmas music, winter seasonal music, or the music of Ireland.
Enjoy the listening as you choose items to give, and perhaps mark down a few picks for yourself along the way, as well.
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