When you think of Christmas albums, it can all get a bit cloying.
As a long-term veteran of the Retail Wars, having to hear Christmas music on constant rotation for three months of the year was enough to put you off for life. I have struggled with the prolonged Christmas season and many of its associated traits ever since finally freeing myself from the thrall of trying to release funds from folk who should probably know better.
This collection of songs is different.
Be under no illusion, it’s a Christmas album of Christmas-related songs and carols, but I’m pretty sure that I could happily play just about all of them at any time of the year, from the first daffodils of spring to the falling of the autumn leaves, and still get a massive kick out of them, without the pang of angst that Christmas songs usually produce.
Yes, there are some classic carols featured – I’d feel a bit of a knob playing Deck the Halls in July, gorgeous though it is! – but most of the other pieces are new to me and, although filled with the fragility of the MydWynter festival, as denoted by the album’s title, are just beautiful songs that do not get bogged down in the seasonal frenzy.
Carol of the Bells falls into a kind of mid-point; Christmassy but always beautiful, and this version is simply entrancing. From the pipes of the intro, the choral vocal gradually builds until a somewhat languid solo voice is released to the fore. The sparsity of the instrumental backing, the depth of the harmonies and the starkness of the lead give it a darker edge that reinvents it as a twisted torch song, violin adding to the melancholy feel towards the end. It’s a startling opener that puts you on notice that this isn’t going to be your standard collection of Yuletide fayre.
The sparsity of the instrumentation allows the vocals to reign supreme whilst providing engaging additions. When given the opportunity, the traditional nature of most of the instruments shines through, as if beamed in from years gone. The multi-instrumental skills of Charlie Cawood, Michael J. York and all of the multitude of contributors are essential in allowing this album to truly fly, and the sympathetic arrangements do just what they need to to support the singers, who are all exemplary. The pipes of Personent Hodie continue this pre-Renaissance, earthy feel, but a surprising and almost We Will Rock You beat ups the ante before the vocals return us to the traditional with the Latin text; an engaging mix of folk, religious and rhythmic to a thrilling fugue-like finale.
Latin is again used for Laudes Celebret, with French as the tongue for a delicate ensemble treatment of Noël Nouvelet. The vibrant and energetic Ríu Ríu Chíu uses Spanish and is sung a capella, as is the stripped back Mary Fre which accentuates the vocal arrangement, allowing the song to drip with emotion.
Lesser known Christmas songs like the lilting Wexford Carol, with guitar and recorder accompaniment, and Gower Wassail, with its pipes, certainly hit the mark, particularly the latter as I have lived near and loved the peninsula for many years. The take on O Little Town of Bethlehem with (I presume) zither drone reinvents it completely, and it’s just lovely.
The solo intro to Flesh of Thee O Mayden Bryght develops into a choral sweep with delicate harp that warms the heart, and the traditional nature is the key to the whole album. As a lover of Early Music – but in no way a purist – the settings and delivery are just so uplifting, and everywhere the quality of the voices is allowed to shine. These songs speak of the human spirit and community in hard times, necessary to get through the harshness of winter, much of which has been lost to us in the modern world.
This amazing album ends with a tranquil This Flour is Fayre , fittingly sung a capella again and drawing to a close on a fading sustained note to round out a collection that is just so beautifully done. It is exquisite in conception and delivery, underlining the quality, attention to detail and imagination that goes into the Baebes’ music, under the remarkable stewardship of Katharine Blake. Its purity gives that spark of warmth that we all need as Winter draws on – particularly this year. Just magical.
01. Carol of the Bells (3:20)
02. Deck the Halls (3:18)
03. Personent Hodie (4:25)
04. Mary Fre (2:46)
05. Wexford Carol (3:29)
06. Noël Nouvelet (4:16)
07. Gower Wassail (3:38)
08. O Little Town of Bethlehem (5:31)
09. Ríu Ríu Chíu (3:36)
10. Flesh of Thee O Mayden Bryght (3:25)
11. Laudes Celebret (3:49)
12. This Flour is Fayre (4:53)
Total Time – 46:26
Katharine Blake – Vocals, Sopranino, Descant & Treble Recorders, Violin, Percussion
Fiona Fey – Vocals
Marie Findley – Vocals
Sophia Halberstam – Vocals
Josephine Ravenheart – Vocals
Maya McCourt – Vocals, Cello
Charlie Cawood – Lyre, Zither, Gothic Lap Harp, Cuatro, Guzheng, Daruan, liuqin, Hammered Dulcimer
Michael J. York – Border Pipes, Kalimba, Double Bass, Bombarde, Tanpura, Percussion
Jennifer Bliss Bennett – Violin, Viola da Gamba, Vocals
Joel – Hurdy Gurdy
Rebecca Austen-Brown – Tenor & Bass Recorders, Mediaeval Fiddle
Robin Blick – Flugal Horn, Piccolo Trumpet
Ben Woollacott – Drums, Percussion
William Summers – Crumhorns
Frank Moon – Cittern
Catherine Gerbrands – Musical Saw
Rosa Marsh – Electric Guitar
Kavus Torabi – Acoustic Guitar
Ava Marsh – Percussion
~ Guest Vocalists:
Anne Marie Almedal
Sophie Charlotte Ramsay
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 25th November 2022