Winter Folk is something of an anti-Christmas album, drawing our focus to the less discussed issues of the season such as domestic abuse and loneliness. It is an album about the emotional vulnerability that many can feel around the Christmas celebrations. It also looks beyond Christmas and considers winter more generally.
Fire and Wine introduces the winter theme. Referencing the shortening days, and oppressive weather it is an immediate affirmation that Winter Folk is aiming to be more than a Christmas album. The easy, almost lazy vocal duet is a testament to O’Hooley and Tidow’s strong, almost effortless chemistry.
One More Xmas, written by O’Hooley, reflects that for not all people does family mean safety. Fantastically written, there is sense of genuine vulnerability with June Abbott’s flugelhorn solo adding a hopeful note of defiance.
Winter Folk Carol considers those who spend their winter lonely and isolated. Sung a capella, it is another testament to the duo’s strong musical unity.
Accompanying themselves on piano, Calling Me is a dramatic, though minimalist piece. Describing the story of O’Hooley’s Catholic great grandmother whose unchristened stillborn children were buried in a field beneath the whitehorn rather than the cemetery, Whitehorn is a personal story fixed to a locality that except for been to turned into a song would be lost to the world. It’s everything a folk song should be.
There is not much to say about Stille Nacht that you wouldn’t expect to be said but this version is lifted by Anna Jenkin’s violin. An upbeat cover of Richard Thompson’s We Sing Hallelujah, June Abbott’s horn keeping beat, lifts the mood after what has been a rather heavy set of tracks.
Fairytale of New York needs little introduction, O’Hooley and Tidow’s version is infused with more hope and optimism than the original. The lyrics aren’t spat out with the same contempt that Shane McGowan and Kirsty MacColl’s downbeat couple held each other in.
Technically and conceptually Winter Folk is great, the songwriting is simply superb, however it can be difficult to connect with emotionally in places. It almost needs to be a bit rougher to give it that human note. Nonetheless O’Hooley and Tidow should be commended for delivering an album that moves the needle on what a Christmas album can be.Christopher C Leslie
Released on November 3 2017 on No Masters.
1. Fire and Wine
2. The Last Polar Bear
3. One More Xmas
4. Winter Folk Carol
5. Coventry Carol
6. Calling Me
8. Stille Nacht
9. We Sing Hallelujah
10. Wexford Lullaby
11. Fairytale of New York
12. Stille Nacht, Reprise