The earth and its landfills would surely survive just fine if no artist ever recorded another holiday album again.
And yet, some artists still manage to add a little something original to a seriously overworked cannon.
It’s probably no surprise that Edmonton’s Juno-winning McDades, giants of traditional music that they are, could be counted on to do just that.
Their latest oeuvre, A Winter Collection, presents Christmas standards and a few originals in a manner more evocative of ancient Celtic sacred groves than contemporary family gatherings around a Christmas tree.
Dad Terry McDade’s harp is in the foreground of a lot of these tracks, lending an “early music” air to the spare and spacious arrangements, which are rounded out primarily by flutes, a touch of brass and some South Asian instrumentation that only adds to the mystical quality of the music.
The original “Snow Snow” includes flourishes of sax that blend in so well that it takes a while to realize they’re there.
The same goes for “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which also features tabla where you might normally expect to hear a bodhran.
The jaunty French number “Guillo, Pran ton Tamborin” has a fiddle in the foreground and what sounds like spoons keeping time.
And the album’s highlight, a nearly eight-minute instrumental cover of “The Little Drummer Boy,” is a trance-inducing blend of tabla, tambura, wooden flute and fiddle.
It works so well, it’s enough to convince you that there might be something to that theory that the Celts first emerged from present-day India.
The choice of repertoire on this album also helps transport the listener back in time.
Songs such as “The Angel Gabriel” (“Gabriel’s Message”) and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” date back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance respectively.
“The Huron Carole” was composed in the 1640s by a Jesuit in present-day Canada.
There are only a couple of places on the album where the feel is much more modern: on the opening original number, “Dreaming on a Yuletide Night,” and on the cover of Ron Sexsmith’s “Maybe This Christmas,” both of which have a bit of a country-folk feel.
For the most part, this is music for your moments of spiritual solitude over the holidays rather than for your noisy family gatherings.
Perhaps nobody really needs another holiday album in this day and age, but the McDades have made one that’s definitely worth a listen.