Review Summary: This LP is like a warm balm to soothe the hurts and scrapes of a particularly tough 2020.
I really didn't intend to buy any new holiday music this year. 2020, bah humbug, and all that. But I broke down and reversed myself on that notion a week ago, when I heard that Blackmore's Night had a new Christmas EP out. And I fell off the anti-Christmas wagon entirely a day or so after that when I got an email from bandcamp, telling me that Runa had released a new holiday-themed LP.
Most of you guys aren't familiar with Runa. (I know this because I created their Sputnik Music page myself, and so far I'm the only one who has rated any of their albums.) But here's why so you should be:
Runa is a 5-piece Celtic pop band. Their bandcamp page says they're from Philadelphia, but their Wikipedia entry also says that some of the members are based in places like Nashville and Chicago, and that the members originally hail from Ireland, the USA and Canada. It doesn't matter much where they're from, though, because in normal times, they're one of these indie bands who make their living by being on the road almost non-stop, playing Celtic music festivals and other shows pretty much wherever they can get themselves booked.
As you might guess, artists like this are having a particularly hard time making a living right now, which is one of the reasons I decided to review them. (I haven't exactly been prolific lately.) Sting and Rihanna might have to sell a plane or something to make it through the pandemic, and I'm sure they're all sad about having to hole up in their mansions. But for these little touring bands, if they can't play in front of live audiences, their ability to put food on the table is pretty severely compromised.
So anyway, on to this album. I happen to like holiday music, and I've listened to a lot of it over the years. So most new Christmas LPs kind of go right by me with not much reaction. This one has stuck, however, and for two different reasons.
The first is the song selection. Yeah, there are a few of the usual familiar chestnuts on here, like "Silent Night," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and that's all well and good. And they also include some tracks you might expect a band that has some familiarity with traditional folk music to choose, such as "Here We Come A-Wassailing" (as part of a medley with "Sussex Carol") and "Soul Cake."
What I like, though, is there are a lot of songs included that are rarely heard on most holiday albums, like "Christ Child's Lullabye," "Gaudete" and an a capella version of "Please to See the King." And even the most familiar songs are given unusual presentations. For example, just listen to the way they've funked up a well-known hymn like "O Come, O Come, Emanuel."
The second reason this album made an impression is simply that I've always loved this band's sound. Shannon Lambert-Ryan is one of those sweet-voiced Irish vocalists whose voice can melt butter. Add in some nice harmonies and a laid-back and tasteful musical backing from the rest of the band, and you've got a gentle and ingratiating holiday treat.
If you're one of those people who hate holiday music, I get it. And this isn't going to be the album for you. But for the rest of us, The Tide of Winter
is like a warm balm to sooth the hurts and scrapes of a particularly tough year. I'm grateful that Runa took the time to record it, and I hope that enough people buy it that it helps them to make ends meet until they can do what they're meant to do - get back out on the road in front of a live audience again.