Monday, December 8, 2008

Winter Wonderland: Through the Bitter Frost and Snow

Susan McKeown: Through the Bitter Frost and Snow


When I began my aforementioned contemporary folk and acoustic journey in the mid- to late-90’s, Dar Williams was the catalyst who led me to so many others – I bought beaucoups of compilations, which then had me trekking to my local Barnes & Noble to find solo recordings by various artists.

One particular CD I purchased primarily because of the cover artwork and the name of the group: Bones by Susan McKeown and the Chanting House – mysterious, right? I adored that CD (Albatross and Snakes and Love and Superstition, oh my!) and it remains in my Top Ten, as much for Susan's strong voice as her inventive songwriting. Imagine my surprise when I realized later she is cataloged as Celtic – “but I don’t like Celtic!”, I thought… and the following paragraph helps explain her hold over me in a non-preferred genre:

If there's some dividing line between Celtic traditionalism and eclectic contemporary songwriting, McKeown refuses to acknowledge it. And with a voice as warm, resonant and versatile as hers, why should she? - The Oregonian

Whew – crisis averted!

Being a collector of eclectic holiday music, I was thrilled when she released Through the Bitter Frost and Snow, which describes so much better than I ever could:

Anyone who lives in snow country can appreciate the stark but fascinating landscapes Susan McKeown and Lindsey Horner conjure up in this jazzy folk-rock amalgam that traverses the stars ("Bold Orion") and the biting solitary expanses of the title track. Still there's an uncanny warmth and longing in the voices, the truncated harmonies, and the resonating bass line, the bass often serving as a lead instrument in "Song for Forgetting," for example. McKeown and Horner have managed to create a highly distinctive record of wintry exploration that mixes traditional British Isles folk singing and jazz phrasing while embracing familiar fare such as "Coventry Carol," "Auld Lang Syne" (almost dirgelike), and "Green Grow'th the Holly." No stranger to melancholy, the record will have a disquieting affect. But it will also please and intrigue with its bittersweet sadness and ironic arrangements for anyone willing to acquire such a beguiling taste of the dark month of Christmas. --Martin Keller

I included this tune on my 2005 Holiday Mix, and continue to enjoy the voice and style of a woman who defies the limitations of boundaries – I hope it warms your heart as well…

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