If there’s one thing harder than reviewing a Christmas-themed recording in January, it’s recording it in August. But that’s what this assemblage did, taking inspiration from a six-song cycle composed by Polecat Creek’s Laurelyn Dossett via commission from the North Carolina Symphony.
A Winter’s Tale In Six Songs should give you the accurate impression that this is not a Christmas album per se, but rather a set of tunes meant to convey the wintertime return home of a prodigal daughter. This core piece is augmented by seven songs and tunes that ramble everywhere from Bill Monroe’s “Old Ebenezer Scrooge” to John Hartford’s “On Christmas Eve,” interspersed among more familiar pieces like “O Holy Night,” “Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn,” and “I Wonder As I Wander.”
There’s a strong chamber folk vibe to this album, which is not surprising considering the source of the commission. What makes this CD of potential interest to the old-time music community is the participation of singer/fiddler Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, mandolinist Mike Compton, and Joe Newberry on banjo and guitar. Along with bassist Jason Sypher, they manage to evoke yuletide moods both spiritual and secular.
As one might expect in a winter scene, the roots are buried somewhat under a blanket of frost. Only a handful of tunes, most distinctively “Redbird” and the Monroe instrumental, come off as something you’d instantly identify as old-time. But for those looking for a gentle take on wintertime music with a passing nod to traditional Appalachian music, this recording would make a nice soundtrack for a hunkered-down December night. (www.gatheringsongs.com.) HK