Tamarack,
Blankets of Snow
(SGB Productions, 1998)

Recorded live over several performances, this concert of Christmas music featuring Canadian folk trio Tamarack and the Guelph Children Singers gets off to a promising start. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the album does not live up to the energy in the first few songs.

For the purposes of this recording, Tamarack is James Gordon (vocals, guitar, piano, accordion, penny whistle, recorder), Molly Kurvink (vocals, electric bass) and Alex Sinclair (vocals, guitar). (James Gordon has since left the trio and was replaced by Shelley Coopersmith.) They are joined by former Tamarack member Jeff Bird (mandolin, octave mandolin, violin, electric and double bass, glockenspiel, and jingle bells) as well as Randall Coryell (drums, percussion, marimba) and Ruth Sutherland (vocals, Celtic harp).

The first track, "Blankets of Snow" is an exuberant celebration of the first snowfall, followed by the catchy "Eramosa Christmas" and the dramatic "Unto Us a Son Is Given," all three original songs. Ruth Sunderland's gentle rendition of "Bring A Torch Jeanette, Isabella" is pleasant enough, but the rest of the CD loses energy for the most part, although it peaks in places such as the feisty "Morrison's Jig" at the end of "Logging Camp Christmas" and closes on a strong note with Gordon's "Christmas All Year."

It's not that the album is bad, although Molly Kurvink's low voice lacks the power to sustain the spiritual "Mary, Mary." It's more that it's pleasant but bland -- much of it skims past the ear without registering. I suspect that the music held together better in the actual concert, where the energy was sustained by the performer-audience interaction; listening to the CD is at best a secondhand experience.

This brings me to the liner notes, such as they are. I wish musicians would forego fancy four-color printing and glossy paper if it meant they could provide useful liner notes. I wanted a little more than a list of people who bought an advance copy of the CD and a list of the performers; there are quite a few original pieces on the CD, and I wanted to know something about the story behind them as well as why the different songs were chosen. Maybe it's just me, but it seems to me that stingy liner notes are the equivalent of knitting someone a sweater out of handspun silk, then wrapping it in a used garbage can liner. (Yes, I'm done now.)

I expected far more from this CD than I got out of it, and I really wanted to like it more. I'm certain, however, that it will of interest to Tamarack fans.

For more information on Tamarack, visit their Web page.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]