Title: Over the Hills and Everywhere
Label: Credential Recordings
There's nothing particularly festive about the musical fabric of Over the Hills and Everywhere, the new Christmas EP from Kentucky alt-rockers Seabird. Explains guitarist Ryan Morgan: "We wanted to record the classics the way we would any other of our songs."
As a result, the music little resembles anything else in one's collection of Christmas music. If crooning and sleigh bells are must-haves on the checklist of Christmas music, this one strikes out. But in the process, it ends up becoming something else: a concept album about the birth of Jesus, albeit one with uber-familiar lyrics. That's not meant as a slight. With two critically-acclaimed albums under its belt, Seabird is a band on the rise. This album is more of a gift to its fans than a definitive career step, and as such, works fine. The overall sonic texture of the album is light: a bed of acoustic guitar covered with piano, strings, and brush-strokes of electric guitar, with lead singer Aaron Morgan earnestly charting a new course through the familiar topography of seven carols.
Certainly Seabird isn't the first to try this; many other bands with sounds much less suited to the sounds of the season have tried their hand at Christmas albums. The question is whether this approach breathes new life into familiar songs or robs these familiar songs of their original glory. After all, the melody for "What Child is This?" outdates America itself. There's got to be something good about it. So when Seabird tosses out Greensleeves, it's taking a risky endeavor. The results, however, are quite noteworthy. On "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," Morgan travels along in a sensitive, quivering tenor. Think Coldplay's Chris Martin caroling at your front door on a frosty December night. "O Come" becomes a slow-developing Copeland-style anthem highly unlike that "other version," and "Joy to the World," its melody penned by Mr. Messiah himself, George Frederick Handel, is barely recognizable in its new arrangement, but still poignant.
Unfortunately, with songs ingrained into the consciousness, it's hard to forget the original melodies, so these feel initially like imposters. After awhile, that wears off, and one is left with a terrific collection of new-old songs. It takes a certain degree of versatility to re-imagine songs such as these. Jars of Clay (Redemption Songs) comes to mind as one of a handful of bands talented enough to make old songs their own. Seabird's not of that caliber yet, but has succeeded in its task on this EP.
**This review first published on December 23, 2010.
Check out Seabird music videos at Godtube.com.