There are a lot of good folk albums for the winter holidays (Kate Rusby's Sweet Bells, Emily Smith's Songs for Christmas, Steeleye Span's Winter and Loreena McKennitt's To Drive the Cold Winter Away are all favourites in our house) but for me one CD tops them all: Awake Arise: A Winter Album by Lady Maisery with Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith -- a wonderful blend of music and spoken word, and of Christian and pagan folklore.
"Winter is our quietest season," they write. "The winds, the frosts and the raw cold carry echoes of the year that has passed and encourage us to withdraw: to accept the dark and reflect. Our journeys through this time of year are accompanied by a shared imagining of winters past: an ancestral memory of snowy lanes and blazing hearths: of bright winter berries and festive celebrations. These dreams of winter, whether experienced or imagined, anchor us in the season and draw us close together, but they also offer a sense of renewal, encouraging us to look anew towards the rising of spring.
"Awake Arise contains songs, readings and poems that sometimes delve into the dark and sometimes evoke the awakening of a coming year. They tell of the stages of winter, of ancient traditions and customs, of finding hope within the gloom, of love and betrayal, of religion and ceremony, and of seeing our own lives mirrored in the rhythms of the season."
Here is a small sampling from this thoroughly magical album....
Above: "Sing We All Merrily," a song originally collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1918 and reworked here by Hannah James.
Below: "Up in the Morning Early," traditional song collected by Robert Burns, followed by "The Christmas Road" from Laurie Lee's Village Christmas and Other Notes on the English Year.
Above: "Carol Reading/Shortly Before 8:30 PM," followed by "Hail Smiling Morn," a Yorkshire pub carol to banish darkness.
Below: "Da Day Dawn," a Shetland fiddle tune, traditionally played at first light on Christmas morning, followed by "Like as the Thrus in Winter" by Edmond Holmes (1902).
Above: "The Bear Song" by Rowan Rheingans, who says: "This is a song for the turning of the year; some things will return and some things are lost forever."
Below: "Snow Falls," written by John Tams, "a hopeful song of the turning of the seaons and the certainty that from the darkest times the spring will rise again." As we head into our second Covid winter, songs of hope and certainty are welcome indeed.
The wintery fairy tale art above is "The Snow Maiden," "The Wind's Tale" and "Gerda and the Reindeer (from The Snow Queen)" by Edmund Dulac, 1882-1953. Born in France, he emigrated to England early in the 20th century, becoming one of the finest artists in the Golden Age of Book Illustration.