Christmas is supposed to be a thousand good and wonderfully light-as-air, joyously uplifting things.
And while it often is – all that tree trimming, laughing with friends and brightness of decoration can only make you feel like a million festive bucks – there are at times when the actuality may fall behind the expectation; which is where Lindsey Stirling’s second Christmas album, and sixth album overall, comes in.
Snow Waltz opens with the soul-revivingly escapist loveliness of “Sleigh Ride” which opens with an almost ethereal burst of horse bells and hints of the energetic violin playing to come, before gathering up the required, really-feels-like-you’re-zipping-across-the-snow-countryside head of steam which feels so evocatively palpable that you’d swear you’re out in it, snug under a blanket and watching the wintery world go by.
Ironically inspired by a heat wave in July 1946, and whose thoughts wouldn’t turn to chilly-but-cosy escapism then, “Sleigh Ride”, by Les Anderson which debuted in February 1948, with the lyrics following approximately two years later courtesy of Mitchell Parish, is the epitome of getting away from it all and soaking up the season, far removed from the concerns of the everyday.
That jaunty spirit of life one step removed from the world around you is further reinforced by the musical buoyancy and light, emotionally evocative vocals of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” which feels like a dance done in work boots, all power and passion and yet full of danceable aura.
Done well, and Stirling delivers well and truly, it’s one of those songs that stirs the spirit up and makes you wonder how you could ever feel low again.
Traditional opening done and lightly dusted in snow, Snow Waltz enters more contemporary though still ’50s-influenced original song “Crazy For Christmas”, featuring the energetically enthusiastic vocal stylings of Bonnie McKee, who admits she’s not so much “crazy” as “festive” which you totally buy.
Back into more traditional but enthusiastically delivered fare with “Feliz Navidad”, first recorded by Puerto Rican singer-songwriter José Feliciano in 1970, Snow Waltz goes even deeper into the Christmas canon with “Joy to the World” which kicks off with a breezily upbeat sea shanty-esque intro which might suggest your heart is a block of Scrooge-like concrete if it doesn’t get you up and dancing.
Or, and this is the fun of this engaging album, you can forgo the intro and just dive into a song that is at or near the top of the Christmas song pile for a very good reason – it honestly feels like Christmas, set to music and full of lyrics that are every bit as celebratory as the season should be.
It’s as joyous an experience as you would hope for a song with “Joy” in the title, and it channels some vivaciously Irish folk musicality to make it one of the standout tracks on an album that isn’t short of them, featuring “Little Drummer Boy”, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “O Holy Night” in its more contemplative though no less spirit uplifting second half.
The title track comes in after “Joy to the World” and it reflects Stirling enchanting gift for breathing a whole world of emotions and lightness of happy spirit into her music which she always accompanies with performances which live and breath the music, in this case, self-penned (with Connor McDonough & Riley McDonough), that she’s performing.
Two other original tracks by the gifted artist who shot to prominence thanks to a brilliantly curated YouTube channel in 2007 and an appearance on America’s Got Talent in 2010, are thrown in for good festive measure – “Magic” (featuring David Archuleta) and “Ice Storm” – along with “Deck the Halls” and some good old Mariah Carey-esque romantic longing in “Christmas Time With You” which benefits from Stirling romance-filled violin virtuosity.
It is joy in 14 gorgeously rendered tracks, all of which feel Christmas come to your streaming platform of choice, or even your CD or LP if you’re the kind of person, like this reviewer, who loves their Christmas music intangible form (on bright red shelves no less) and it makes you feel like the season has come fully formed in to your world even if it might be lacking when the album starts.
Saying a collection feels like music is always a tad problematic because how do you make physical the “I’ll know it’s festive when I hear it” sensation, but Stirling makes it with aplomb, and a few sugar plum fairies somewhere in there, channelling all the garrulous bliss and buoyant contentment of Christmas into music that lives and breathes the season and reminds that all those expectations of escapist seasonal happiness are there because albums like this exist.