Diane Taraz,
Hope! Says the Holly
(Raisin Pie, 1999)

If Diane Taraz had included "The Holly and the Ivy" on her Christmas CD Hope! Says the Holly, she would have nailed all of my most favorite Christmas carols. As it is, I'm delighted to have "People, Look East," "Il Est Ne, le Divin Enfant," "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," "In the Bleak Midwinter" and "Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabella" all on the same CD. Even better, these songs and the other carols on the CD are performed beautifully.

Taraz accompanies her smooth, rich vocals with guitar, dulcimer, kalimba (African thumb piano) and piano, as well as producing most of the sound effects on "The Twelve Days of Christmas." She receives assistance from Roger Kimball (cello), Bob Wilson (violin), John Taraskiewicz (bass), David Poland (fiddle), David Rosen (bones) and Eric Kilburn (leaping lord, contented cow, piper). Taraz makes excellent musical choices in her arrangements with just the right accompaniment for each song.

She uses the kalimba to striking effect in "People, Look East," where it sounds like bright chimes and enhances the melody, although I wish she had not left out two verses. "Il Est Ne, le Divin Enfant" features guitar and fiddle accompaniment with the rhythmic click of the bones tapping along briskly. An exquisite arrangement of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" follows. It begins a cappella in three-part harmony -- Taraz possesses a marvelous vocal range -- after which Taraz plays the melody on a mountain dulcimer, then accompanies the three part harmony again. The overall effect is breathtakingly lovely.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is a light and fun rendition, complete with a sound effect for each gift on each day. The sound effects are heard only when the new item is introduced and then all at once in the final countdown rather than dragging out the song and bludgeoning the joke to death. The kalimba makes a virtuoso appearance in an instrumental of "Angels We Have Heard on High," where the arrangement was painstakingly laid down on multiple tracks; one can only play two notes at a time on a thumb piano (one for each thumb). The result is a full-bodied baroque-sounding music box of a melody, at once delicate and robust, and certainly unique!

Taraz keeps the first stanza of Christina Rossetti's poem-turned-Christmas-carol, "In the Bleak Midwinter," and rewrites the other three stanzas to reflect a more secular and general approach to the solstice. The verses are fine, but I really prefer Rossetti's verses; this, however, could be because that is what I am used to. Taraz gives the melody a striking treatment with bell-like piano accompaniment.

The CD closes with "Silent Night," and Taraz sings it gently and simply with guitar accompaniment. It makes a perfect ending to a CD replete with remarkable arrangements performed with versatility and style.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 20 December 2003

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