Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dreams of a Christmas Night captures the beauty and wonder of the season

Dreams of a Christmas Night EP
Artist: Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning
Label: ArkMusic (http://www.arkmusic.com/)
Length: 4 tracks/14:57 minutes

Imagine making your way through snowdrifts to a tiny concert hall. Among flickering candles, you listen closely to a small ensemble performing songs that sound contemporary but recall Christmas songs rooted in another time. The proficiency of the musicians and the intricacy of the pieces warm your heart despite the chill that lingers over your tired frame. There’s magic in the air as piano, flute, acoustic guitar, violin and cello seamlessly weave a pattern befitting a Celtic knot.

Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning’s music have a way of transporting you to another time and place. Their Christmas offerings are always enchanting. I would be glad if they did one every year, even if it was only a few songs, like this four song EP.

This is an excellent companion to the earlier Stars in the Morning East: A Christmas Meditation (2005) and A Quiet Knowing Christmas (2001)—both full-length recordings. You could liken them all to chamber music with a Celtic and contemporary flair. Johnson’s website contains even more quality Christmas music, but these three are the best.

This EP continues the trend begun on Stars in the Morning East of a more organic, less is better approach. Piano and keys, flute and accordion set the stage for a supporting cast that for the most part is found on the previous releases.

Unlike the two other recordings, which are all instrumental, this EP includes a song in which Johnson delivers a beautiful vocal. "Walking in the Air" was written by Howard Blake and was inspired by The Snowman, a children’s book that was made into a popular animated movie. Johnson’s vocal takes flight over keys, flute and viola.

As on previous outings, Johnson and Dunning resurrect and provide fresh arrangements to lesser-known carols. In this case it’s "The Waits Song" and "Noel, Noel, Voice L’Enfant." The latter includes some ethereal sounds that are like an angelic chorus. They follow Dunning’s booming bodhran.

"Down the Chimney" is an original song, and the most Celtic-sounding. It includes a couple of Johnson’s favorite collaborators: Derry Daughtery on acoustic guitar and Greg Williams on percussion.

The songs on this EP glide and weave intricately like a sled making its way through trees on snow-covered hillsides. Once again Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning have given us a recording that captures the beauty and wonder of the season. Their music is conducive to recapturing that childlike sense of awe that often eludes us as we grow older.
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