Winter Songs and Carols
(2019 - Rimar Records - USA)
The title says it clear, an album of winter season tunes and a toss of Christmas carols. The fact that I have never before done a review on a "Christmas" album, and the usual taste for me is the odd and obscure seasonal style record (and that has only been in the last 10 years or so), speaks for the special quality of 'Winter Songs and Carols' by Mary Fahl. If you want a gorgeous release and/or you are already a fan, thrust me you want and need this. 'Urge For Going', with the roaming strings, will have you already melting and preparing to cry a bit, and this is just the second cut on the album. Now you know this is a choice winter wonderland presentation.
For the skeptical, songs by Joni Mitchell ('Urge For Going'), Sandy Denny ('No End'), Leonard Cohen ('Winter Lady') and a variety of classical composers are covered in a supreme way. How else does Mary do it? Fans know her one-of-a-kind voice (from the early days of October Project to her catalog of solos) and along with beautiful warm strings, some piano, occasional guitar, percussion and bass; each piece is sincerely performed, impeccably sung, and given a picturesque atmosphere. Produced by Mark Doyle and presented in a 6 panel digipak beautiful compact disc format, the cover and inside art is perfect.
Even the traditional classic carol like 'What Child Is This' is so far above the norm, it brings a tear. With a sacred and nostalgic reverence, 'Christmas Time Is Here' will have you never thinking the same about that Charlie Brown Christmas selection. She brings about just enough of the happy brightness, yet reserving an honest and fragile way with the tune. Mary's intention was to give the song a 'Gymnopedies' (Satie) feel, verses the usual jazzy piano treatment. Note: an error in the printing of the actual composer is on this first pressing of the CD. The jacket credits track #5 as written by Coots J Fred/Gillespie Haven, but the true composers are Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi. Mary wanted all to know who buy this initial pressing. It was too late to correct due to disc already going to print, but it will be fixed on next printing. (perhaps a collectors item for these first pressings?).
'Ave Maria' (Franz Schubert) is so wonderfully executed, again, enough to make you weep. But then comes 'Walking In The Air' (by Howard David Blake) that could stand next to those gargantuan hits from October Project, or the best of anything from Mary Fahl's solo works. It is HUGE and even if a person hates Christmas or winter songs, THIS is worth the price alone. Not that anyone could possible feel shortchanged from all the other delights on the album. 'No End' (Sandy Denny) is lush with strings and goes another step in elegance. Fahl has a way of giving a special touch to every song she covers. It is a gift, and this album certainly gives. The respect and dignity presented results in both an improvement and exception.
'Winter Songs and Carols' grabs the purity of the Christmas spirit and puts it right back on the mantle, where the stockings are hung, over the glowing fireplace. It takes the arresting and wipes away the distractions in our distorted lives. This gets a place among a chosen few of my Christmas time recordings with much respect. Now all that is missing is some distant jingling of bells in the night. RECOMMENDED, even for Scrooges out there.
©Reviewed by Lee Henderson 12 - 01 - 2019