I especially love when a guitar virtuoso, like Steven Swinford, does one. I'm not talking Gary Hoey; although, his Christmas albums have been descent. I'm talking about someone who knows their instrument inside and out and can make it sing like no other can. Tuck Andress has a great Christmas album and so do many other guitar players, but I'm always finding something is missing in those albums. Whether it be passion for the songs they are playing, or just going through the motions to kick out a product. I love simple and beautiful arrangements when it comes to guitar and Steven Swinford has hit the mark with this release of "Ode to Joy". I have only smiles when I listen to this gem. I have been stuck on two albums this season and this is one of the albums that I keep listening too over and over again. That says a lot, because I listen to a LOT of music not only for the shows I produce, but just for pleasure.
Track 1 - O Little Town of Bethlehem - Simple arrangement and the guitar just sings beautifully.
Track 2 - Bring the Torch Jeanette Isabella - Again, just stunning playing going on here folks. I play guitar and I so wish I could play like this. This is one of my favorite Christmas songs.
Track 3 - Hark the Herald Angels Sing - This song is elevated to another level when the strings come in. They fill in from an Americana/Folk point of view to a full string quartet, which is absolutely beautiful. Laraine Kaizer plays all of the violins, violas and cello parts on this release.
Track 4 - I Saw Three Ships - This song is hard to play on the piano, I can't imagine what it takes to play on the guitar. Then Steven, his wife Stacy Swinford and Morgen La Civita come in on vocals towards the end of the song. What a great surprise to hear them all singing together.
Track 5 - While He Lay Sleeping - This is a Steven original piece. Beautiful song. I love the percussion and what sounds like a mandolin in the background. I think the title is perfect. You get that sense that someone is watching someone silently and peacefully sleeping and the person is grateful for having them in their life.
Track 6 - Joy Medley - Yet another classic, that is incredibly hard to play on the piano and the finger picking that is going on in this rendition is masterful. A beautiful arrangement once again. A nice tie back to the original run with the harmonic. The break into Ode to Joy in the middle is perfect. I can't say that that it leans towards a Country genre. This is more like a Bard's tale or Troubadour style of playing. A Medieval court maybe? either way. I love this medley.
Track 7 - Good King Wenceslas - Beautifully plucked harmonics on this song. Another finger exercise endurance trial, but a pretty one, nonetheless and another favorite Christmas song for me.
Track 8 - Angels We Have Heard on High - Another pretty arrangement of a timeless classic. And yet another song that I love to hear played on the guitar.
Track 9 - O Come All Ye Faithful - I love the feel of this arrangement. Simple but sweet.
Track 10 - Silent Night - This track opens like it's a deep meditation and then goes into almost a "riding on the wagon trail" song. It has strings and the right percussion to make it sing. This could also be right out of the "Cold Mountain" soundtrack. It has that Civil War bluegrass feel to it. I love it. I also love Jake Tanner's harpsichord playing on this song. What a great mix!
Track 11 - Kings Medley - Oh I love this medley too. Even if I'm being a little kid again and singing "we three king's of orient are...puffing on a loaded cigar". Oh to be young again. I like the way Steven takes classic Christmas songs and intertwines them into a medley arrangement of his own.
Track 12 - O Holy Night - Another excellent version of O Holy Night. I've heard twelve new ones this year and this now this has to be one of my favorite renditions. I love when the violin comes in and makes my spine tingle and heart sing.
Track 13 - For Unto Us a Child is Born - A great rendition of an arrangement done by the London Symphony Orchestra. Beautiful guitar playing once again on this track. Plus a return of Stacy and Morgen singing on this track towards the end. Everyone singing in harmony. Just beautiful.
Track 14 - The First Noel/Joy to the World - Solo guitar. Simple and beautiful. This is the last track on the album. Last but not least.
This is a grand entry into my Christmas library. I love everything that Steven produces. I'll highly recommend any of his other releases as well. You need to go grab this one of your holiday music list. Get a CD copy while they last! It truly is a wonderful album all the way through and back again. Put this in your playlist and just press the repeat button and kick back.
Links for Steven Swinford:
Steven Swinford on Bandcamp, CD Baby, Amazon and iTunes
CD Copy while they last, are available here
Here is "O Little Town of Bethlehem" from YouTube