CD: Christmas Joy
Artist: Fiona Joy Hawkins
Tis the season… when some of the genre’s finest recording artists apply their creative talents to craft innovative versions of holiday classics. One such songsmith is Fiona Joy Hawkins, whose award-winning “Blue Dream” CD I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing in Music and Media Focus. To call her “award-winning” is an exercise in understatement, having achieved one of the highest rankings in the history of the New Age Reporter International Radio Charts. She has also been a finalist in more than 43 Indie Artist Awards worldwide as well as receiving a number of music industry honors in her native Australia and the US.
“Christmas Joy” finds her collaborating once again with another award-winner – Grammy winning producer Corin Nelsen, whose name is associated with quite a few of the impressive recording projects I’ve heard from Imaginary Roads Studios. He and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman who served as production advisor (as well as playing acoustic guitar) have brought together one of the finest collections of studio musicians to be found anywhere in support of Fiona’s music. One of the top bass players in the world, Tony Levin, who plays with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson appears on the album, as does Charlie Bisherat who toured with Yanni and John Tesh, keyboardist Phillip Aaberg, cellist Eugene Friesen, percussionist Jeff Haynes, and Rebecca Daniel on violin, to name but a few. Along with Fiona on grand piano and vocals they have produced what Will Ackerman calls “an inventive and joyful approach to the music which has been taken for granted for decades… an utterly brilliant creation and a recording of stellar beauty for the season.”
While Fiona’s piano is always front and center in the arrangements, a number of novel accompaniments make this album stand out from the crowd of holiday releases, not the least of which is the inclusion of a didgeridoo on “Jingle Bells,” bringing a bit of her Australian heritage to the party. This may be an extreme interpretation of creative license for the traditionally-minded, however, it is relatively low in the mix and adds both drone and percussive accents with an Aboriginal flair. This instrument also makes an appearance towards the end of the CD on the title track. Another taste of international flavor is provided by Alfredo Rolando Ortiz who plays some lovely Paraguayan Harp on “Still Still Still.” On the tune “Walking In The Air” (from “The Snowman”) vocalist Heather Rankin sings the lyrics in Gaelic. Thoughtfully, an English interpretation is provided in the liner notes. A sprinkle of percussion instruments adds spice to the mélange.
I should point out that while these ethnic elements are mentioned for their distinctive touches, they are incorporated sparingly and occasionally in the recording, and the majority of the compositions do not comprise a “world music” release per se. In fact, within the fresh take Fiona provides on these renditions, listeners will find a great deal of familiarity, intimacy, and hominess in their heartwarming presentation. Perennial favorites such as “Silent Night,” “O Come O Come Emanuel,” “Silent Night,” “Away In A Manger,” and others unfold with such grace and beauty as to give chills and stir memories of Christmas past while evoking the true spirit of the holidays. She has also included some original songs that fit in beautifully and round out the collection. A music video of “Flight Of The Snowbird” from the CD can be found at Fiona’s website which also showcases her artistry as a photographer. “Christmas Joy” is a perfect blend of Fiona’s masterful musical talents, virtuoso accompaniment, and world-class production, mixed with a generous helping of heart and soul to create a sumptuous seasonal songfest.