|Diane Arkenstone & Misha Segal, |
Christmas Healing, Vol. 1
(PrimaVista/Neo Pacifica, 2006)
No matter what particular winter holiday you celebrate, everyone knows how stressful December can be. From crowded malls and shops to harried cashiers and heedless (if not downright rude) drivers -- not to mention trying to figure out what to give Uncle Walter -- it can be hazardous to your health to venture out your door.
Fortunately, new age musician Diane Arkenstone and film composer Misha Segal have teamed up to bring the holiday-weary three volumes of Christmas Healing. Volume I presents 10 tracks of traditional carols. Segal's arrangements are simple, with no more than a few quiet instruments (piano, guitar, flute) and Arkenstone's gorgeous voice, and with none of the annoying vocal aerobatics that singers often employ to make a tune "theirs."
Rather than trying to describe each individual track -- after all, how many different ways can you say "quiet," "peaceful," "gentle," "delicate"? -- let me pick out a representative few. No collection of traditional tunes is complete without "Silent Night," and on this CD, it is the opening track. Arkenstone's voice is here employed as a third instrument; rather than singing the song, she sings only random phrases. Truthfully, the first time I heard it, it seemed a little jarring, but I quickly came to appreciate how well it suits the arrangement where the piano and guitar do most of the work. "Angels We Have Heard on High," "The First Noel" and "Good King Wenceslas" are all done as instrumental tracks, and on the last, it's a wise decision, rather than having Arkenstone sing the parts of both Page and Monarch as forth they went.
"O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is often presented as a dirge, but is here transformed into a quiet and lovely prayer. If "Silent Night" is a necessity, so too is "Joy to the World." Here, the often brassy and boisterous tune lives up to its title with up-tempo piano and layered vocals rather than volume.
Alas, I have not yet heard anyone who could prevent "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" from sounding hissy: "We wissssh you a merry Chrisssstmasssss." But Arkenstone seems very much aware of the song's difficulty and sings it with a knowing smile.
I have to say that this is one of the most enjoyable Christmas CDs I've heard in a long time. The gentle traditional sounds are the perfect antidote to December's hectic pace. After an arduous day's holiday shopping or a horrible day at work, come home, grab some nog, put your feet up, and experience some Christmas Healing.
15 December 2007