Fiona Joy Hawkins
2011 / Little Hartley Music
Christmas Joy is Fiona Joy Hawkins’ beautiful contribution to the world of Christmas and holiday music. She co-produced the album with Grammy Award winner Corin Nelsen, with Will Ackerman acting as production advisor. Hawkins appears on piano and some of the vocals, backed by a very impressive list of musicians and singers that include Philip Aaberg, Will Ackerman, Heather Rankin, Charlie Bisharat, and Eugene Friesen. The eleven tracks include four originals and seven familiar and traditional Christmas pieces, but even the traditional songs are given a brand new feel with improvisation and original interpretations. Until you’ve heard “Jingle Bells” with didgeridoo in the background, you haven’t really heard it! It is interesting to note that Fiona recorded this album on a Stuart and Son’s piano, a relatively new Australian piano that is hand-made and getting rave reviews all over the world. This really isn’t just another Christmas album - it is more of a musical event that follows up Hawkins’ multi-award winning 2008 album Blue Dream.
Christmas Joy opens with one of my favorite songs - “Walking In the Air” from The Snowman. It begins as a piano solo with light string washes in the background, emphasizing the haunting melody. On the second verse, Heather Rankin sings a counter-melody with Gaelic lyrics. This piece is so beautiful that it takes your breath away. I will probably have that track worn out before Christmas! “Still Still Still” is light, playful, and completely charming. Paraguayan harp adds some unusual touches and gives this arrangement a world music feeling. “Silent Night” is very slow and conveys a sense of deep peace and calm. “Gliding On a Sleigh” brings in Charlie Bisharat on violin and Premik Russell Tubbs on soprano sax. Also very slow and serene, it paints a gorgeous portrait of a peaceful winter scene. “Christmas Wedding” shimmers and sparkles with bright white bliss. “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is another favorite song of mine and is one of the earliest carols. This arrangement is unusual in that Friesen adds “God Rest Ye Gentlemen” as a counter-melody for one of the verses - and it works incredibly well. “Flight of the Snowbird” is a lovely new arrangement of one of Hawkins’ signature pieces, “Flight of the Albatross.” A string trio joins the piano, adding a richness and fullness to the already gorgeous piece. Love it! Piano, cello, and violin perform an elegant and graceful “The Holly and the Ivy” that is somewhat slower than you usually hear it, but is perfect at this leisurely pace. “Christmas Joy” picks up the tempo and dances for - you guessed it! A full ensemble joins in on this one, conveying unbridled happiness and warm contentment. “Away In a Manger” brings us back to “the reason for the season” with a sweet and tender lullaby for piano, violin, and cello - a touching and fitting conclusion to a fantastic album.
Christmas Joy is an album I’ve been looking forward to, and it was well-worth the wait. It is available from www.littlehartleymusic.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. I highly recommend it!