I’ve been in maximum Christmas mode for the last few days, producing Sonic Seasonings, Living Room Concerts for Christmas. Every year since forever, we’ve produced these shows with 3-4 live performances. Finding Echoes artists that play seasonal music is always a difficult proposition. The shlock factor for seasonal music is high. I don’t know that we always avoid it, but believe me, we try. Each year we go right to the edge trying to find four artists to fill the bill. The electronic/ambient set doesn’t go near it, although the Ministry of Inside Things made a nice go of it a couple of years ago. But by and large, the ambient artists don’t know from Christmas and the electronic, more new agey artists head right for the shopping mall miasma, trotting out cloying renditions of the same carols you’ve heard since Mrs. Murphy made you sing them in kindergarten. Which is ironic, since we borrowed the name Sonic Seasonings from Wendy Carlos’ ambient masterpiece of the same name.
That’s why Sonic Seasonings is usually acoustic, because those musicians actually seem to play this music and a few have some artistic sensibility about them. But even then, these musicians don’t just have this music under their fingers. They usually only play it out in November and December and that’s too late for us to record. That’s also why this show actually took two years to put together. Last year at this time, all we had was a great Acoustic Eidolon performance in the can.
So we ran a best of Sonic Seasonings show. But a couple of weeks before Christmas, Ottmar Liebert came through town with Luna Negra, a string quartet and a new Christmas album under his arms, Winter Rose.
And it wasn’t shlocky. It was tasty, full of original interpretations and originals. He played a great performance for us at the late-Indre Studios in Philadelphia. We ‘d been trying to nail the California Guitar Trio down for a show for a little while. They came through in late spring and christened our new studio. (An interesting sidenote, CGT were also the last artists to play in the original Echoes Living Room in our home.) I love their set, full of intricate musicianship, synchronous arrangements and a bit of whimsy. They are such scary good musicians, it didn’t matter that they hadn’t played these tunes in over half a year.
But we were still looking for a fourth to round out the show in early November when we got a new CD from Al Petteway & Amy White.
Winter Tidings is the seasonal CD I’ve been waiting for. It’s a disc that captures that chilled air, fresh snow and magic world of Christmas that I grew up with in New England. They don’t take a religious view of Christmas but a country cosmic view born in Ireland, distilled in Appalachia and captured on the strings at their fingers. So they came up from their North Carolina home in mid February and cut a set for us in mid-November.
So tune in to Sonic Seasonings this year for some meticulously crafted acoustic chill. We’ll also have a bunch of extra tracks that we couldn’t fit in up on the website.
We hopefully have a head start on next years show. Harp guitarist Stephen Bennett came by last week and on the spot came up with a great Christmas set and next week we should be recording singer Moya Brennan in New York. It’s already beginning to look a lot like Sonic Seasonings 2007.