Toward WinterClose Enough
(Alouette Iselin & Melanie Everard)
Close Enough Music, 2000.
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A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
A recent article in the Baltimore Sun complained about the bad Christmas recordings that tend to get cranked out this time of year; the list included new releases by Barry Manilow, Rosie O'Connell, and the cast of Ally McBeal. If you're feeling Scrooge-ish (and justifiably so) about the "entertainment" industry's ration of schlock, you'd do well to invest in some recordings from your local folk community, which tend to be produced with way more integrity, sincerity, and artistic excellence than Barry Manilow has exhibited in his entire career. One of this season's best releases is Toward Winter, by the duo Close Enough. |
Melanie Everard and Alouette Iselin have performed and recorded together as Close Enough for close to a decade, and have been involved in the New Hampshire folk community for longer. Between them they perform on hammered dulcimer, Celtic harp, guitar, and vocals, always with a graceful simplicity that belies an accomplished musicianship. On Toward Winter their third release, they are joined occasionally by Bonnie Insull on pennywhistle, Aprylle Derosiers on flute, Byron Smith on bass, and Loren Jones on djembe, as well as a chorus of twelve robust voices.
Half of the traditional pieces here are either folk melodies or hymns, and the rest are recent compositions, including three written by Iselin. From the first notes, the music shimmers like the glint of moonlight on an icy pond, and is infused with the introspection, sweet melancholy, and quiet hope of winter in a New England village. Selections like Russian Round, The January Man," and their medley of O Come Emmanuel/Coventry Carol have a haunting feel, like walking through woods at twilight, while their instrumental renditions of Angels We Have Heard on High and Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring evoke a peaceful, snow-covered pasture. A few times, such as Andy's Winter Tune, on which Everard and Iselin duet on dulcimers, the music is brisk and biting as a toboggan ride.
The lyrics display a reverence for the season in both its Christian and pagan aspects. Of particular note are Iselin's stately Carol of the Spirit of Christmas Present, which celebrates the birth of the baby Jesus, "reminding us of light and joy, in the darkening of the year;" and The Four Noble Trees, which weds the melody of The Holly and the Ivy with lyrics of how "the Lady bore the Green Man to rise from the dead."
Toward Winter is precisely the sort of recording to put on when you're nestled in your easy chair with your herbal "cold care" tea, watching the snow fall yet again, and pining for crocuses. It's a recording by two women who know just how you feel, and want to remind you, as they do in Solstice Round, that "Good friends, good food, and music are light for the soul."