december 2008

Compass Records
Released: 2005

A reissue/repackage of a highly regarded 1998 release, A Christmas Heritage closed out a banner 2005 for Tim O'Brien (whose Fiddler's Green, which won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album, and its companion long player, Cornbread Nation, ranked with the year's best acoustic music entries). He stands out in this septet of super pickers in the role of multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and writer. Partnering up with him in this most delectable holiday dialogue are as solid a lineup as any around, numbering Philip Aaberg on piano, Darol Anger on violin, Alison Brown on banjo and guitar, Todd Phillips on bass and Mike Marshall on mandolin and guitar. Equally rooted in traditional and progressive modes, these formidable musicians easily traverse bluegrass, country, pop, even jazz terrains (check out the sprightly interaction between the various instruments supporting O'Brien's gospel-style vocal on a swinging interpretation of "Go Tell It On the Mountain"). The repertoire includes imaginative new arrangements of beloved fare such as "Greensleeves"—in a lilting, sumptuous arrangement melding acoustic guitar, a haunting fiddle line, and O'Brien's aching vocal that combine to put a fresh, evocative spin on this timeless text—buttressed by the band members' intriguingly conceived original numbers. Soft and lovely, Brown's delicately fingerpicked guitar solos in her original "The Promise of Spring" evokes the image of a world slowly awakening from its winter slumber, with Anger's bright violin exhortations and Marshall's soft, trilling mandolin commentary enhancing the sense of rebirth; moody and impressionistic, Phillips's "On a Quiet Night" is a five-minutes-plus excursion into feeling and texture, as violin, mandolin and piano each take a round expressing evolving nocturnal moods from evening's weariness (Aaberg's piano is especially evocative here) to first light's buoyant energy rush. In its elegant stylistic fusions, A Christmas Heritage is a treat for all seasons, but it'll certainly brighten up anyone's bleak midwinter.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024