With so many holiday/Christmas music offerings out there, even in just the new age/contemporary instrumental genres, it always helps to distinguish oneself from the “pack.” Dana Cunningham does that in two distinct ways. One is her playing which is the epitome of a blend of nuanced control and technical proficiency. The other aspect, and the most important for this review, is to arrange traditional carols in a way that they are both recognizable and yet completely fresh, without losing the carols’ seasonal appeal. In this latter way, Cunningham’s Homecoming: Songs of Comfort and Joy is a testament to the artist’s composing and performing skills.
As seems to be the norm these days, Cunningham features nine traditional carols and three “seasonal-sounding” originals. As to the latter, it’s difficult to adequately describe what makes an original song “fit” on a holiday album, but in this instance, whether it be tone, tempo, or melody, they do. Regarding the subject of traditional carols, Cunningham’s arrangements are certainly imaginative, but each one does retain enough musical “references” to be recognizable. In some cases, more than others, her alterations (for lack of a better word) actually enhance the backbone of the “standard” arrangement. It’s obvious that this album is intensely personal to Cunningham and her carefully nuanced playing, which either flows with a lyrical sensation or flirts in a sparser approach, conveys discernible intimacy. I hesitate to refer to the album’s mood as fully introspective, but it’s closer to that than cheerful or celebratory.
Two guest artists appear on certain tracks - Max Dyer on cello and Mike Sakash on saxophone. While their background playing provides soulful and extremely complementary elements, Cunningham’s piano is always in the forefront on the carols and songs. It’s the core of the listening experience. For myself, I think this is a great late-night soundtrack or, perhaps, on a cold, grey, even stormy days (a snowstorm, of course!). Lastly, from a technical standpoint, the album is excellent, thanks to Gerry Putnam’s production.
Homecoming: Songs of Comfort and Joy would be a welcome and worthy addition to anyone’s holiday music collection. It is one of more heartfelt Christmas albums I have reviewed in many years.
Homecoming is available for purchase via the artist's website here