by Jim Blum, FolkAlley.com
Last summer, songwriter Laurelyn Dossett spoke to good friend Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops) about getting a head start on some songs about winter – specifically, about coming home at wintertime. The plan was for half of the album to feature Christmas songs, and the remainder to be more about the winter season in general. What was not foreseen was the addition of a string band, and for a few performances, the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra.
The result is a wonderful album called The Gathering. The performances and the technical recording are both exceptional considering it was recorded in a small cabin in North Carolina. Joining the two are mandolinist Mike Compton (John Hartford Stringband, Nashville Bluegrass Band), banjoist Joe Newbury, and Jason Sypher on upright bass.
“Diamonds in the Pines” personifies the road, asking for its wisdom and direction in the journey home. Rhiannon sings for a generation of mothers in “String of Pearls.” This time of year allows time to slow down so we can think about our past and future. The harmonies are carefully thought out and beautifully close.
The holiday specific songs include a striking delivery of “Oh Holy Night” which features only Rhiannon singing to Jason Sypher’s bass lines. The Gathering also includes a rollicking visit back to the Cotton Mountain Top Sacred singers of 1929. That’s where the group found “Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn.” Once you hear this you’ll want to sing or play along.
The album’s highlight may be “Lights in the Lowlands.” Laurelyn trades verses with Rhiannon as the singers wonder for all us if going home after a long absence is a good idea. We all live with doubt about our decisions, and hearing those questions coming forward from our speakers loud and clear force us to bring those thoughts to the surface. This is one of those songs that stays with you. Though it’s a seasonal release, something tells me that the whole album will stay with you all year.