Friday, December 22, 2023



Welcome Winter
Vineyard Music Productions

Welcome Winter, from guitarist Bryan Lubeck, injects some subtle jazz liveliness into a few traditional holiday/Christmas classics (and one original) but leaving the essence of these carols intact and all their familiarity easily discernible. That is no small feat as many recordings that “liven up the proceedings” do so to a degree that purists, such as this reviewer, grow weary of shortly. That is not the case here, whether it’s Bryan’s stellar guitar work or his guest artists (see full details below). Not every track receives this treatment, but when Lubeck and company do spice things up, such as on the opening “Deck The Halls” it works…oh yes, it works!

I’d like to compliment Lubeck and all his (many) guest artists, each one doing a bang-up job when they are featured in a song. Also worth mentioning are Lubeck's and Ryan Herma's arrangements, which are where the album truly shines.

While Lubeck’s guitar takes the lead melody, many of the other players get their turn in the spotlight, e.g., the violin on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (sadly, there are three violinists listed so I can’t pinpoint which one is on this track), or Eric Salazar’s superb mellow clarinet on “The Christmas Song” (one of the more laid back carols, and fittingly so). “Jingle Bells” is anchored by solid trap kit drumming as it bounces merrily along, as well as wonderful vibraphone play by Joel Norman and great violin work too. “Carol of the Bells” has the more appropriate somber evocation even if the tempo is upped a bit and the dulcimer and flute accompaniment (by Ted Yoder and Nick Bisesi, respectively) also feature prominently. The sole original tune here is the title track and, obviously, it’s difficult to say that a new song (as opposed to an ages-old classic) sounds “seasonal” or “Christmasy,” but the song’s relaxed and reflective main melody fits in perfectly with the surrounding traditional carols. For me, it does a great job of matching the gorgeous cover artwork, i.e., perhaps it’s the soundtrack to returning home for the holidays.

All in all, Welcome Winter would make a most worthy addition to any instrumental music lover’s holiday collection. As Lubeck states in the liner notes, the album “…harkens back to growing up listening to the artists on the Windham Hill instrumental record label with a fresh perspective on those memories.” He pretty much nails it with that description. And I concur that more than once I fondly recalled listening to some of that label’s holiday offerings while listening to this album. I imagine its too late to purchase the CD in time for playing it on Christmas Eve, but I strongly recommend you either download it or stream it, especially during festive gatherings, although it would just as great listening to it by oneself in front of the glow of Christmas tree lights.

All songs are traditional except “Welcome Winter” which is composed by Bryan Lubeck
Album produced by Ryan Herma
Mixed and mastered by Marc Nelson
Primary engineer: Ryan Herma
Song arrangements: Bryan Lubeck and Ryan Herma
String arrangements: Ryan Herma and Erik Rumsa

Lead guitar: Bryan Lubeck
Rhythm guitar: Bryan Lubeck and Ryan Herma
Flute: Nick Biesi
Violins: Erik Rumsa, Katherine Hughes, Lewis Hul Stahl
Cello: Matthew Agnew
Dulcimer: Ted Yoder
Vibraphone: Joel Norman
Percussion: Luke Ratley and Nate Lacny
Bass: Jon Paul
Melodica: John Erickson
Clarinet: Eric Salazar
Piano: Neil Artwick
Mandolin: Don Stiernberg and Ry Herma

Album design: Travis Raysten
Photographer: Richard Hellyer

No comments: