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traditions rearranged

is what happens when four very talented artists who do just fine on their own, thank you, develop a bond and decide to do just fine together, if only for a short time. Last year, they shared the stages at a number of venues and found that not only did it expand their fan bases (four for the price of one is, indeed, an incentive), it was artistically satisfying. Well, prepare to be satisfied.

I know them all by name but have had extensive dealings with just one: Antje Duvekot. I traveled to Sisters, Oregon in early September to attend the Sisters Folk Festival on the strength of Duvekot, Danny Schmidt, and Rita Hosking. I wrote a rave review of Duvekot's Big Dream Boulevard, one of 2006's best according to my ears. I wrote another when she released The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer this past year. I will undoubtedly write another for her next release. She is unique, vocally and musically, and a treasure.

So I imagined a danger with Winterbloom. Antje Duvekot has a talent so unique and so creative that I worried about dilution. Putting her on stage with Anne Heaton, Meg Hutchinson, and Natalia Zukerman would be akin to plugging your four favorite guitar players into a song written by and for only one. The guitar would be powerful, but possibly watered down.

Then I heard the album. Antje Duvekot is indeed not the powerhouse here that she is on her solo projects, but it soon becomes apparent that she does not wish to be. This is a group effort, as balanced as the four strong musical personalities can make it, and it works. traditions rearranged won't club you over the head because it is not made to. It is, in its simplicity and lack of pomp, a winter album... and a Christmas album.

It is also a mixture of traditional songs as well as originals. The traditional range from the surprisingly included The Riddle (Tumbalalaika), an old Yiddish folk song to O Holy Night (show of hands... how many knew this was French) to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Okay, it doesn't technically qualify as traditional, but there are fewer of us each year who know its Hollywood background, if not origin). Not surprisingly, they sing the German Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht--- not surprising due to Duvekot's childhood having been spent in that country.

The originals are much better than I'd hoped, Duvekot's Thanks For the Roses (Merry Christmas) following The Riddle with tongue in cheek humor and folky harmony. While not exactly a Christmas song, the four do a masterful job on Greg Brown's Rexroth's Daughter, a shining example of Brown's songwriting acumen. Heaton's low-key original As You Are weaves folk and jazz around seasonal garb and does it very well, being worth it for the low-fi electric piano alone (though Heaton's vocals nails it down nicely too).

I have to confess, though, that my absolute favorite on the album is Hutchinson's Of the Magi. It probably has as much to do with my generational preferences, O. Henry having been a favorite writer of childhood. The Gift of the Magi, in fact, was a regular seasonal theme of early television and had a good run in early Hollywood as well and for good reason--- it was a great story. Hutchinson's treatment is touching and cinematic, if only by default, and she is true to what matters, both lyrically and musically. This one will go on my Christmas mix from this date forward.

Production-wise, traditions rearranged is close to the vest. No bells and whistles, no deep sound chambers, no guest artists. That it what they wanted, I am sure, and I am happy to say that the production values capture the bond between these four artists. No apologies, no regrets. They are good friends. I get it. If you like any of these four, you should too.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.


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