El McMeen,
The Soul of Christmas Guitar
(Piney Ridge, 2004)

El McMeen doesn't do anything halfway. At least musically, it seems. Take this Christmas CD. Not only is it a beautiful selection of tunes, the arrangements are absolutely unique. Seven tracks out of 12 are based on very familiar melodies, and the others add a layer of interest to the traditional, and they sound kind of familiar, too. But, solo guitar for a Christmas set?

Well, depend on McMeen to pull it off. Who wouldn't be tempted to add a tinkling human voice to Christmas tunes? I guess McMeen has confidence in his guitar's voice.

It works and works well. I've come to expect that McMeen doesn't offer half-baked products -- only the finest of ingredients used. Skill, timing, fine ear, experience and spirit all play a large part in his music.

The tone on The Soul of Christmas Guitar is light, yet intense, easy but rich. It could be played in church or at a family Christmas party and everyone would be touched by its elegance and reverence.

Seemingly a spiritual and family man, as well as dedicated musician, McMeen offers this: "I hope that my personal musical testimony by way of this CD provides an appropriate environment for you to appreciate and reflect on the meaning of Christmas for you and your family." This is not a jolly "let's go shopping and find Christmas cheer" CD, but it's the CD that could relieve that hustle and bustle instinct when it just gets to be too much.

"Silent Night" is a shining example of how McMeen can take a traditional tune and energize it. My favourite of all Christmas tunes, he's made it shine brilliantly, just like the sign in the sky did for the kings of the Orient.

He's arranged all of the tunes on this CD, so there's a consistent tone, and Marc Moss has provided his talent at recording, mixing and mastering.

Now if you want to play like El McMeen, you can consider the Martin guitars that he describes in the liner notes, and the 100-page tab/music book, to grasp the music on this recording, is available from his website. I'm not sure what else to suggest, except maybe a finger transplant.

El McMeen has put body, mind and spirit into this CD, and we're all the better for it.

by Virginia MacIsaac
12 November 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.