Wednesday, 7 December 2016


CD Review

Songs for Christmas

Christmas albums can be a thorny subject when it comes to integrity. They can be treacly, self indulgent, patronising, preachy and often just an excuse to rehash old songs.

Emily Smith.
Pic courtesy of Archie MacFarlane
And songs which proclaim the real meaning of the season beyond the greed and commercialisation of the festive period put together on an album which is packaged and sold on the back of Christmas is a noticeable irony.
However, this aside, Emily Smith's offering is a good blend of traditional Christian carols, good folk music which is produced well and a showcase for Smith's crystal-toned voice.
Scottish songbird Smith is a seasoned entertainer whose vocal style is eminently enjoyable to hear and lies somewhere between Dolly Parton and Cara Dillon - who has her own Christmas collection Upon A Winter's Night out now.
Smith opens her festive album with Find Hope which paints a picture of many of the triggers which get most of us in the Christmas spirit.
She blends the Christian meanings of the time of year with the commercial imagery of corporate Christmas. Following on from this, Christ Has My Hairt, Ay is overtly the biblical story familiar to many about the birth of Jesus.
It's a sound arrangement from the hands of Jamie McLennan and Brandon Bell of a traditional song which never gets self indulgent, it doesn't sound particularly Christmassy which is part of its strength the most of which lies in the words.
Kate Rusby does wonderful Christmas songs but Smith's smooth and modern version of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is both thoughtful and evocative and should be part of anyone's celebrations this year.
Heard From Heaven Today is a lovely addition to this album and is the sort of song which can tug at your heartstrings. The rasping viola and accordion along with the lighter fiddle really give it depth of character.
Much lighter but sticking with the story of Mary and her baby on the road, Little Road To Bethlehem skips along with a jazz beat like the lambs Smith sings about. Merry Christmas To All and Goodnight is all about the sentiment of the season.
The gentle ballad, which is done in light bluegrass style, vividly creates the imagery most associate with Christmas and how we would like the world to be all year round and not on just one day.
Many will be familiar with The Blessings of Mary, it has been done many times and is also known as The Seven Joys of Mary.
Smith gives it a modern treatment. Her version with the beating guitar and again jazz style fiddle may rankle some feathers but it's a good offering with her gentle vocals giving it a real homely feel.
She gives firm Christmas favourite Silent Night the country treatment and there is nothing wrong with it. The musical interlude on the fiddle is a nice touch.
Winter Song is Smith's own offering and shows what a lovely and thoughtful voice she has. The simple guitar accompaniment reminds of Joni Mitchell and her lyrics paint a vivid picture of the coming of winter and the passing of the season.
Emily Smith's Christmas album
It gets a little saccharine with Santa Will Find You but what the song does do is show the strength, character and quality of Smith's voice. Like most things at Christmas it's a little indulgent but who doesn't indulge at this time of year? The song is easy on the ear especially after a long day.
The penultimate track The Parting Glass has been done by pretty much every folk singer at some stage, one of the most recent being Ange Hardy's version. Here Smith sticks to the traditional version and her voice lends itself to the song perfectly.
You get a feeling of genuine emotion in her singing which adds to the character of the track.
The final track on the album is a genuinely fitting way to end a Christmas album.
A Life That's Good is a song about realising what's important in life and not to be blinded by possessions and the pursuit of more and more to the detriment of what's really important.
It's a covertly religious song so is easier on the ear than some preachy style tunes.
Smith has a voice that is worth listening to anyway so that's always a bonus. As a Christmas album this is not a bad offering and is not sickly sweet, overly preachy or bible-bashingly annoying.

Songs for Christmas is out now on WhiteFall Records

You can see her live on December 9 at The Queen's Hall. Doors open 6.30pm and the show starts 7.30pm. Tickets are £16 for adults and £10 for children and all sales will incur a £2 booking fee, even if buying in person, with an additional £1 admin fee for booking online or over the phone.  The following night December 10 she plays Inchberry Hall, Fochabers. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £13.33 for adults, £11.21 with concessions and £6.96 for 16s and under, all prices include the booking fee. Then on December 11 she will play Woodend Barn, Banchory. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £14.50 or £12.50 concessions and £5.50 U-16s in advance or £15.50, £13.50 concessions, £6.50 U-16s on the night. She moves to Dumfries on December 15 to play The Theatre Royal. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £15 and £12. The it's on to McMillan Hall,  Newton Stewart on December 16. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £10. Unfortunately her concert on December 18 at Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill is sold out. Although it may be worth contacting the box office on 01387 253383 on the off chance there may be some returns or no shows. Smith will also be joined on the tour by multi-talented mucisians Jamie McLennan, who co-produced the album, and Anna Massie.

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