Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem’s WINTERSONG skips over the holiday canon — there are no jingle bells here, no mistletoe, and only one fleeting reference to Santa. Instead, Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem dig up the power, the beauty and the celebration at the roots of Christmas. With fierce poetry and wild joy, WINTERSONG is an ode to light and dark, and to the balance of both at the turning of the year.
New Englanders have two primary seasonal coping mechanisms for wintertime: introspection and celebration. Hole up and think about your life, then go out and party. WINTERSONG does both, swinging from reflective songs and settings of classic verses by Longfellow and Tennyson to fiddle- and percussion-driven New Year’s shouts from the Georgia Sea Islands and Louisiana. Jesse Winchester’s opening lyric sums it up: “Once upon a Christmas morning / there was a pretty little baby boy / seems like I remember sadness / mingling with the joy.”
Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem has been praised as a one-band music festival, and WINTERSONG delivers just that. Bluesy, full-band tracks pulse with electric guitar, four-part harmony and fiddle: Jesse Winchester’s “Let’s Make a Baby King,” Tommy Thompson’s “Hot Buttered Rum,” Michael Doucet’s “Bonne Annee,” “Yonder Come Day” from Bessie Jones and the traditional “Children Go Where I Send Thee”. Modern songwriter takes on the holiday — Ron Sexsmith’s “Maybe this Christmas,” Sydney Carter’s “Bells of Norwich” and Chrissy Hynde’s “2,000 Miles” — get a more acoustic treatment with banjos, ukuleles and kalimba.
Interspersed like a deep breath between these, pared-down tracks invite the listener to the quick, lean verses of G.K Chesterton’s “A Christmas Carol” to banjo, fiddle, and harmonium. Guitarist Anand Nayak contributes a poignant and intimate reimagining of Longfellow’s anti-war poem, “Christmas Bells.” Arbo’s hushed vocal on the German carol “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” sounds like a lullaby with quiet banjo and guitar; and the album closer, “Singing in the Land,” floats the band’s four-part harmony over solo acoustic guitar in an Appalachian hymn from the Ruth Crawford Seeger collection.