I was enamored with Richard Gilewitz's *Live at the Second Street Theater* in 2006 (here), where the fingerpicker showcased a dazzling schedule of compelling cuts. The guy's a favored performer in the California Guitar Trio's fancy, so you know we're talking about unusual skill and quality. Christmas CDs, though, are often a dicey affair, what with so many New Age goop fests and pop banality tending to surfeit the market, but Gilewitz only decided to produce his after listening to Stephen C. Siktberg's Christmas Music for Acoustic Guitar and the bracing arrangements contained therein. It was a wise choice as the guy managed to also avoid the oft smotheringly wooden recitals seasonal songs receive when rendered in a classical vein. Part of this departure from rigid orthodoxy derives from the guitarist's love for John Fahey's work.
The disc, however, is not solo, as Gilewitz chose a quintet of backing musicians (second guitar, two cellos, keyboards) with nicely attuned ears, a gathering managing to straddle the rarefied airs of both Beethoven's time and the Windham Hill label (the most successful New Age imprint yet produced), ending up with, as Gilewitz himself puts it, a flurry of sounds. Mostly the atmosphere is of the sort Fahey would've favored, along with refrains of Jan Akkerman's baroque solo stylings and tastes of William Ackerman's famed imprint. Don't take that as gospel, though, as the arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman smacks deliciously of a cow poke's Christmas, embodying an absolutely unique interpretation. Matching it, closing the CD is a version of Jingle Bells that would do a barnraising proud. These two cuts, in fact, for all the warmth of the classicalist approach, prompt me to urge Gilewitz to consider next year doing a completely countrified Xmas release:, the pair here being so devastatingly good.
Throughout Strings for a Season, the mix is sometimes thick and lush (The First Noel for instance), other times spare and pensive (O Holy Night) but always rimed with the stateliness of antiquity and a number of innovations the years since have evoked. Credit Tim May and Tim Roberts for partial credit as well. May provides the complementary back-up guitars (banjo and mando included) while producing and Roberts engineered a sound as clear and shining as the light atop a yule tree.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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