Gareth Davies-Jones,
Nine Lessons
(KISPR, 2012)

I am always fascinated to hear how performers set out to make common songs their own. Nothing could be more universal in Western Christian culture than the singing of Christmas carols. Enter Irish minstrel Gareth Davies-Jones, with his striking voice and expert guitarmanship. In Nine Lessons, he offers us 10 acoustic melodies that magnificently summon up the spirit of the holiday season.

The listener can almost imagine that snowflakes are falling, and that the air is heavy with the scent of fresh pine boughs or burning bayberry candles.

The album begins with "Love Came Down," a light, traditional Irish air with words written by Christina Georgina Rossetti. Already Gareth finds his own way by deviating from the score found in the typical church hymnal. Who says you have to sing it like everyone else does? You can let the words dictate your path. "Infant Holy" is a reflective tune that stays with you long after the CD has run its course. "Wexford Carol" is an upbeat chronicle of the events leading up to Jesus's birth. It too has a refrain that will linger in one's mind.

The mood downshifts considerably with "O Little Town of Bethlehem." Gareth's alternative minor-key melody makes for a more contemplative description of the nocturnal landscape. His rendition of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" issues a steadfast invitation and almost a demand for appearance, as contrasted with the original song, which tends to drone along without any kind of clear resolution.

All of these selections are unique and are stunningly performed. But by this point in the recording, Gareth's audience may be longing to hear a carol that sounds more like the ones they know by heart. They find it next in "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

For a temporary break away from the day's religious roots, Gareth invokes a sense of longing with a steady arrangement of "Winter Wonderland." He follows it with "A Child Is Born," another lovely lingerer that takes its lyrics from a G.K. Chesterton poem called "The Nativity." The ninth song is the ultimate guitar carol, "Silent Night." Gareth keeps its traditional sound but, as usual, graces it with his own style. The "extra" cut on the album is "In the Bleak Midwinter." This pensive and most traditional selection on the album may be interpreted as a benediction for the entire recording.

What are the nine lessons of Nine Lessons? That's a question for the listener to debate and decide. But if you pay attention to the order of the songs and to their lyrics, you may just come to some conclusions on your own.

What's not in question is the performer himself. Davies-Jones has a great voice to listen to. He enunciates his words perfectly, with a light Irish flair. His guitarmanship is flawless, marked by exact and deliberate finger picking. On occasion you hear the quiet additions of another guitar, a bit of shadowy percussion, or another voice or two in harmony. But really, this is a one-man show that features many "new" songs and melodies that have staying power. This CD is highly recommended for anyone looking for a new approach to traditional Christmas tunes. It will also find fans among those who adore acoustic, unplugged performances.

Nine Lessons proves that you don't need much: just talent and passion. The simple tagline on the CD aptly sums up Gareth's sound: "Acoustic Guitar, Gentle Voice. Feel the Ambiance." Indeed. Let's hope we continue to hear more from this talented young man.

[ visit the artist's website ]

music review by
Corinne H. Smith

10 February 2018

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