New music: A trio of Christmas discs on Turkey Day
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If department stores can supplant my favorite holiday with "Black Thursday" sales, I imagine it's acceptable to review a few Christmas CDs on turkey day -- against my better judgment, of course.
"A Winter's Tale"
Billed as "Christmas music with deep roots in Appalachian and Piedmont music," this disc features a six-song winter's tale written by Polecat Creek singer Laurelyn Dossett and commissioned by the North Carolina Symphony. She's joined by Carolina Chocolate Drops singer Rhiannon Giddens and mandolinist Mike Compton as well as bass player Jason Sypher and banjo player Joe Newberry (who also contributes a pair of original tracks).
Fleshing out Dossett's song cycle are seven folk-bluegrass-based Christmas songs by the likes of Bill Monroe and John Hartford. The songs are entirely acoustic and tracks like "Lights in the Lowlands" and Monroe's instrumental "Old Ebenezer Scrooge" have an easy-going and organic feel that you can warm to on first listen.
The five-minute "Redbird," one of the disc's standouts, takes a cue from the Chocolate Drops' style of dance hall string band. The group's take on Hartford's "On Christmas Eve" is another gem, and the traditional "Christ Was Born on Christmas Morn" is a gentle toe tapper.
"Christmas With Karling"
White Trash Records
Ms. Abbeygate -- who has seized on the moniker apparently bestowed on her by rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson as "First Lady of Rockabilly" -- has put together an 11-song mix of Christmas standards and originals. By turns childlike and sultry, the British-born, Los Angeles-based singer lays her old school country and rockabilly hands on "Jingle Bells," puts a Bo Diddley spin on "Deck the Halls" and offers a Latin-rockabilly take on "The First Noel."
More interesting are her originals. The lead track, "What's In the Box," is an inscrutable and precocious hybrid that's part glam rock and part Buck Owens. There's plenty of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" tunes, like the Marilyn Monroe-meets-Patsy "Santa's Got a Crush on Me," the oddball "Tra La La La La" and the swingin' "Honey's Coming Home For Christmas." For the closer, she reverts to her Celtic roots, turning Robert Burns' "Auld Lang Syne" into a jig complete with bodhran.
"Songs of Solstice"
Washington, D.C.-based composer/musician Jennifer Cutting's holiday offering is steeped in Celtic tradition in both spirit and instrumentation. Cutting uses recorders, fiddles, hand drums, Celtic harp and bagpipes, as well as drums and electric guitars, to bring considerable life and spirit to the tunes.
The result is something akin to a less quirky Incredible String Band with hints of Fairport Convention (thanks to singer Lisa Moscatiello) that ranges from the rhythmic, Celtic rock of "Green Man" to the traditional French "People, Look East" and the haunting "Voici Lo Noel."
"Time to Remember the Poor" dates back to 19th-century England. The arrangement is lush with keyboards, Al Petteway's soaring electric guitar and Moscatiello's vocals sounding a bit like our own Kathy Mattea.
"Summer Will Come 'Round Again" closes the disc with a classic bit of Fairport-styled British folk rock.