John Doan's usual instrument is the unusual 20-string harp/guitar, a 19th century instrument popular in parlors in the U.S. and Europe. This Christmas album brings those "olden days" to life. Doan has assembled a number of exotic and antique Victorian instruments, including the harmonica, mandolin harp, piccolo trumpet, banjo, toy piano, autoharp, the Gem Roller Organ, violin, cello, viola, and even a carol taken directly from an old Edison home phonograph. Doan's arrangements of traditional carols offer delightful sparkling highs, oom-pah lows, and warm guitar mid-tones. Because of the primitive state of some of the instruments, the album has a homey sound, but it is only some instruments that have the rough edge. The phrasing, arrangements, and performance on instruments is perfect. "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" is first played on toy piano, then Doan repeats the theme on the harp/guitar and morphs the tune into "King Wenceslas"; the result is "Jolly Old King Wenceslas." A unique arrangement is the way-down-South swing feeling plunked on the traditional spiritual "Go Tell It"; of course, the banjo stars on this track. Doan offers a unique grouping to the carols: Carols of Kings (i.e., "Three Kings"), Carols of Birth (i.e., "Away in a Manger"), Carols of Joy, O Carols (i.e., "O Christmas Tree"), Carols of Night (i.e., "Silent Night"), and Carols of Bells & Farewells (i.e., "Carol of the Bells"). This album will make a refreshing addition to your collection of Christmas music. Build a fire, warm up some hot cider, and inhale the essence of Christmas past.
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AllMusic Review by Carol Wright