This time working with a core trio of multi-instrumentalists -- the returning Woods as well as Ian Pirrie and Matthew Butler -- Read created another striking, subtly mysterious collection of antique folk-styled songs for the modern day. As before, guitar is supplemented by keyboards, flutes, and older percussion styles, all of which end up making the music quite timeless in combination, as much a product of modern arrangements and recording as it is centuries-old influences. Read's lyrical concerns and the overall pace and flow of Midwinter Fires differs little from Hollow Ways -- it's not so much a progression as an adjunct to the older release, one that succeeds very well. References abound to Celtic mythology, Norse history, and common mythical figures across many cultures, with Read's steady, slow singing giving everything the force of ritual and storytelling coming down through the years. One of the album's best moments, a version of the old Irish song "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," serves as a fine contrast to the work of other well-known ancient music stylists, Dead Can Dance. That duo's version of the song appeared two years before on Into the Labyrinth, an a cappella number delivered with low passion by Lisa Gerrard. Read's version uses exquisite, delicate keyboards and violin to underscore his equally emotional but slightly lighter singing. It makes for a fine individual approach. Some songs sound a little more recent in terms of delivery and performance -- "The Cause" almost sounds akin to Scott Walker's "The Seventh Seal" in its dramatic, quick pace, acoustic guitars and bells ringing and more. Other songs exhibit a similarly more fluid approach, but generally the pace is elegantly slow if not stentorian, pitched somewhere between medieval drawing rooms and dim, dark activities of the further past.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett