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CD Reviews

December 16, 2011


The Daily Local News (PA) -

For the Journal Register News Service

Time once again to look at the new holiday releases for this year and see which ones are worth putting under your tree. Heres a batch of recommended titles:

Mark O'Connor, 'An Appalachian Christmas" (OMAC)

With all the hustle and bustle associated with this time of year, it’s a real joy to find something so simple and pure as this holiday offering from Mark O'Connor.

O'Connor is a Grammy winning composer and violinist who revisits classic Christmas songs on this release. Recorded in an intimate setting, he gives the impression that this is an off the cuff performance for friends and family; providing a relaxed and spirited performance that just happened to be recorded. Guest performers on this recording include James Taylor, Yo-Yo Ma, Allison Krause, Renee Fleming, Steve Wariner, Chris Thile, and Jane Monheit. These contributors make for a fresh new take on familiar songs, and provide a few new gems as well.

The collection is playful and joyous but it can also be solemn at times. "Carol of the Bells" is turned into a haunting string affair, and O'Connor adds smoky jazz coloring to the "The Christmas Song" on which he teams up with Monheit. These tracks, along with the inclusion of some lesser known songs like "Cherry Tree Carol," and "One Winter’s Night,”"make this a different sort of holiday release. "Slumber My Darling" flows with gentle echoes and whispers between O'Connor and Krauss, and it is nothing short of breathtaking.

This is an outstanding Christmas offering from a virtuoso string player performing in a wide range of musical genres. If you make a point to only buy one new holiday CD a year, this one would be a wise and wonderful choice – for this year and for the years to come.