Susan McKeown

Through the Bitter Frost and Snow

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This thematic collection of songs about winter and Christmas finds McKeown beginning to realize the potential that peeked out at irregular intervals on her last full-length effort (Bones, Prime CD PCD-027). Now that the focus is primarily on her voice and on the muscular but sensitive bass playing of Lindsey Horner, things are a bit lighter and jazzier, especially on "Winter King" and the lovely "Bold Orion," which includes an out-of-place but strangely satisfying electric guitar solo. "Green Grow'th the Holly" is a 15th-century English Christmas song that McKeown delivers in gorgeous multi-tracked three-part harmony. But the album's centerpiece is the stark and beautiful voice-and-bass rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" that had NPR's phones ringing off the hook when McKeown and Horner performed it during a New Year's Eve broadcast. This is a perfect disc to play while sitting by the fire with a loved one on a frigid winter night-not because it's romantic, exactly, but because it lets you feel alternately the severity of winter and the warmth of the Christmas season's promise, all without leaving your living room. A remarkable album.

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