Steve Eulberg,
'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime
(Owl Mountain, 2003)

Christmas carols are the most visible (or, strictly speaking, audible) folk songs to survive into our modern age. They can certainly be annoying. As often as not, these anthems, many of them centuries old, are trotted out as kitschy seasonal muzak that, as it wafts through the stale air of department stores, tries to afford us warm and fuzzy feelings amid the chilly orgy of consumption that Christmas has become. Every once in a while, however, one is reminded of how beautiful those old melodies are and how profound the sentiments they express.

Steve Eulberg is a dulcimer -- mountain and hammered -- player and the musical director at the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Colorado. That's good news on two fronts: he's a very fine musician, and he means what he plays. The result is the lovely 'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime, which puts more than 20 Christmas tunes (none involving Santa Claus) in appealing, innovative instrumental arrangements.

Eulberg is joined on occasion by Siri Lichte (flute), Russ Hopkins (doumbek), Kaitlin Winter-Eulberg (snare drum) and Katie Stieber (cymbal). Mostly, though, it's his show, with him performing on varieties of dulcimers, often combining them on the same cuts to produce a dulcimer chamber-orchestra effect.

You'll find a few, though not many, of the standards here. The CD opens with a fresh version of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" (nearly 500 years old, believe it or not). There's also "Coventry Carol" (of the same vintage), and "We Three Kings" (19th century) gets a pleasurably swinging, though still reverent, reading. The haunting "I Wonder As I Wander," which folksong collector and performer John Jacob Niles composed out of an Appalachian fragment in the early 20th century, appears in a striking arrangement. Mostly, however, the CD features pieces with which the average listener is likely to be only vaguely familiar, and often not even that, from various European and American traditions.

Eulberg gets remarkable melody and tone out of his instruments. His playing consistently demonstrates precision and taste. The Christmas-music tradition is -- literally, in this case -- in good hands on this perfectly realized recording.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 24 December 2004

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