Mediæval Bæbes

Mistletoe and Wine: A Seasonal Collection

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Nettwerk's offering for the 2003 holiday onslaught is from Great Britain's pagan/early music/sensualist ensemble the Mediæval Bæbes. Ex-Miranda Sex Garden leader Katharine Blake steers the group through 15 Latin, Welsh, Italian, French, and English -- as in Old English -- yuletide standards. All of the songs, except for "The Holly and the Ivy" and "Dulce Jubilo," are culled from previous releases. Besides the occasional flourish of flute, harp, drum, and lute, these lovely secular and non-secular songs are for the most part performed a cappella. Highlights include the lush "Coventry Carol" and a beautiful rendition of the Latin chant "Gaudete," made famous by English folk-rock pioneers Steeleye Span in 1972. This is not just an anthology of joyous festival music -- the babes can get downright spooky, especially on tracks like "Undrentide" -- it's an often somber examination of pre-Santa Claus holiday piety. The gorgeous closer, "Blow Northern Wind," erases some of that gloom, brings the wheel back around, and sets things right with its dreamy Enya-like lucidity. The production is crisp and clear, and the tracks are paced flawlessly, making Mistletoe and Wine: A Seasonal Collection a cut above the usual Christmas pap.

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