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Album Review: What I Hear (EP)
Dana Cunningham
Cover image of the album What I Hear (EP) by Dana Cunningham
What I Hear (EP)
Dana Cunningham
2020 / Fountain Creek Music
17 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
“What I Hear” is a beautiful 4-song Christmas EP by pianist/composer/arranger Dana Cunningham. Sure to brighten the 2020 holiday season, this EP also serves as a preview of a full album that will be released in 2021. The four songs are familiar Christmas songs, but Cunningham’s interpretations add a depth that makes them shiny and new again, as well as bringing them up-to-date. Recorded on a 1898 Steinway B grand piano at Cedarhouse Sound and Mastering in New Hampshire, the sound quality is warm and rich. Cellist Max Dyer also appears on two of the four tracks, creating a very elegant piano/cello duo. All four of the arrangements are on the pensive side, but there is plenty of dramatic expression that makes them come alive. It’s a very impressive sampler and I look forward to the full album next year.

“What I Hear” begins with the modern Christmas classic, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” A soulful duet for piano and cello, the piece begins with the melody played as an uncomplicated piano solo and becomes more expansive as the cello enters. Cunningham has mixed original phrases of the song with a new, more contemporary interpretation, and it works beautifully. I’ve heard a lot of arrangements of this song, but I think this is my favorite. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is usually spirited and joyful, but Cunningham’s arrangement is graceful and more thoughtful, perhaps leaving enough open space to listen for the angels as she weaves together parts of the original melody with fresh new musical ideas. “We Three Kings” is a song that works well in many musical styles and formats, and this one is very dark and searching, with the cello making it even more compelling. The original melody is used sparingly with phrases here and there, so this arrangement is mostly a new piece inspired by the carol itself. I love it! The fourth carol is “What Child Is This” which is, of course, the melody for “Greensleeves.” Gentle and reverent, the melody isn’t recognizable until about a minute and a half in, and then it weaves in and out - gorgeous and deeply emotional!

“What I Hear” is a wonderful EP - especially if you like new instrumental interpretations of the traditional carols. You won’t be able to sing along with this one, but you can wrap yourself in the beauty of the music and calm the hectic pace that the holidays can bring. I can’t wait for the full album! The EP is available digitally from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites like Spotify. Highly recommended!
December 7, 2020
This review has been tagged as:
Holiday AlbumsHoliday Albums & Singles: 2020