Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Spotlight: Winter Carols by Blackmore's Night

Winter Carols is a double-album of Christmas and holiday songs by the band Blackmore’s Night, comprised of Ritchie Blackmore (of Deep Purple and Rainbow) and his wife Candice Night. Performing a style of music that is often described as renaissance folk-rock, their signature sound naturally provides the perfect musical context for these timeless compositions. The first disc includes fifteen studio recordings while the second disc features live versions of five pieces from disc one. Disc two also includes four additional variations of “Christmas Eve”, with the original version likewise appearing on disc one. Performed and sung in the spirit of hundreds of years ago when peasants and royalty alike shared in the joy of the holidays, the pieces on Winter Carols often paint transportive mental images of old European houses and castles among a magical winter scenery complete with people enjoying food, festivities, music and dance.

Sounding off the album with a cheerful rendition of “Deck the Halls”, a flute initially plays the main melody, which is then followed by Candice on vocals accompanied by a full arrangement. Next is the longtime familiar, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”, which has always been one of my favorite traditional Christmas carols. Beginning at a slower pace, acoustic guitar and processional drums lead the way as Candice sings the main melody. Gradually picking up the pace, a lovely instrumental bridge enters that sounds traditionally Arabian, accompanied by an exotically transportive mid-eastern oboe sound.

One of the liveliest segments on the album is the pairing of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing / O Come All Ye Faithful”, which bridges two classic carols. Seemingly conveying a parade of lights, dancing and celebration, the rather pop-rockish tune also features an impressive riff of soulful electric guitar. Another notable highlight is the beautiful instrumental, “Winter (Basse Dance)”, which effectively conjures images of a cozy, crackling fireplace with its relaxing arrangement of classical guitar and orchestral strings.

The band also performs a song for Hanukkah called “Ma-O-Tzur”, which is a Jewish liturgical poem. Showcasing a lovely guitar and string arrangement, Candice sings the melody first in Hebrew and then in English in a lightly soaring manner. One of my favorite Advent and Christmas hymns is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, which the band has simply rendered as “Emmanuel”. Here Candice sings its supernal lyrics amidst acoustic guitar and strings, until the arrangement eventually welcomes a whimsical flute melody towards the middle.

And lastly, I was most happy to see the band’s original composition, “Christmas Eve”, included on this album, as it brings back wonderful memories of the first time I heard it during a Christmas holiday spent in Austria a couple of years ago. Perfectly capturing the inexplicably magical air of Christmas Eve with its celebratory arrangement of singing, sleigh bells, guitar and percussion, hearing this festive albeit nostalgic piece still reminds me of riding in a car one night as it snowed. The second disc also includes four edits/versions of this song, which differ notably from the original in that they’ve been remixed with an added dance/techno beat, however I greatly prefer this version.

Having grown up intimately familiar with some of the carols rendered here, I felt naturally inclined to sing along (whether aloud or mentally). As a result, my only real criticism of this album is that Candice changes some lyrics on a few of the songs that she apparently felt bothered by, which threw me off slightly a couple of times. Perhaps if she felt that uncomfortable singing the lyrics to a specific carol, she should have just sung something else altogether. Aside from that minor quip I greatly enjoyed Winter Carols, and likewise I’m a fan of the band’s many other works. Overall festive and fun (as opposed to more reverent sounding), I’d especially recommend this album for holiday and wintertime celebrations! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the band's website. This album is can also be purchased at Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.