If Petteway and White had not titled this album Winter Tidings and included the two standard Christmas tracks amongst the selections (Joy To the World and The Holly and the Ivy), one would be hard put to call it seasonal unless one were some sort of musicologist or specialized in holiday music on some level. Winter is here, yes, but a carol by any other name is not necessarily a carol and, well, play a newly written Winter-inspired tune which does not rely on traditionally accepted themes and to the average listener you have a tune. Period. If it's a great tune, you have a great tune. Period.
Of course, sometimes arrangements make the tune and that is certainly the case here. Eleven of the thirteen selections are traditional and Petteway and White apply their skills well, fitting each to their various strengths. Even Joy to the World and The Holly and the Ivy, handled with a true sense of the music as written, come out the better for their arrangements, each containing simple but aurally pleasing twists which take them from the mundane (or at least, overheard) to the magical.
Amy White wrote both of the originals: Into the Light and Aerial. Both are breathtaking in their beauty and tone poems of the first order, thanks to underlying themes upon which each composition builds. The former is White's musical vision of light in its varying definitions, the latter an emotional flight over the land on which she lives. Simply closing your eyes takes you on a mental Imax journey of intense proportions.
There are those who look upon traditional music as staid and boring (and this is really traditional, much of it written centuries ago), but a simple listen should allay such generalities. Each composition is handcrafted for beauty and effect, and indeed an aura is woven around each arrangement, instruments switched at will to create a delicate, all too short-lived world. Add haunting and at times ethereal voices, always at just the right times, and you have magnificence.
That magnificence is courtesy of a number of instruments, each played deftly by our musical hosts, as it were, and listed here as insight to the music itself: acoustic guitars (from the varying sounds, a variety), mandolin, Celtic harp, Irish bouzouki, mountain dulcimer, fretless bass, pump organ, whistle, banjo, piano, and a multitude of percussion. Used sparingly, as has been stated, they weave magic.
Admittedly, there are many albums of new-agey seasonal music on the shelves, thanks to a movement supported years ago by labels such as Windham Hill, Private Music and Kuckuck (and even before that, labels like Vanguard and Angel). The shelves even seem cluttered to some. This album, though, is only marginally seasonal and contains music to enjoy throughout the year. That alone gives you reason to reach through that clutter. Al Petteway and Amy White are among the elite. Winter Tidings is proof.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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