Steve McDonald
& Hollie Smith,
Winter in Scotland:
a Highland Christmas

(Etherean, 2000)

Steve McDonald and Hollie Smith have put a new level of exultation in Christmas.

It was Smith's name which drew my eye to Winter in Scotland among the broad array of new Christmas CDs, although she has second billing under McDonald. That's because it was Smith's CD Light from a Distant Shore (with, admittedly, a lot of assistance from McDonald) which blew me away when I first heard it a few months ago. The young New Zealander's voice is phenomenal, and she puts it to great use here, too.

That's no slight to McDonald; he and Smith are a fine pair whose sum is greater than its parts. They both provide dynamic vocals; McDonald also adds bodhran and keyboards, and is responsible for these incredible arrangements. Rory Morrison rounds out the sound with flute and pennywhistle.

The team provides particularly beautiful renditions of "Silent Night," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Oh Holy Night" and "Auld Lang Syne." There's a nice McDonald composition, "Christmas Time Again," and a spirited reinterpretation of John Lennon's "Happy Christmas." There are also strong, stirring recordings of "Good King Wenceslaus," "Little Drummer Boy," "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "The First Noel" and "Deck the Halls." "Amazing Grace" is a familiar reprise from Light from a Distant Shore.

The multiple vocal and instrumental tracks on some songs turn this handful of musicians into a full chorus and orchestra. Winter in Scotland has leapt right to the top of my favorite Christmas CDs.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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