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Album Review: Midwinter Born
Tobin Mueller
Cover image of the album Midwinter Born by Tobin Mueller
Midwinter Born
Tobin Mueller
2013 / Tobin Mueller
61 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Tobin Mueller’s Midwinter Born is one of the most original solo piano Christmas albums I’ve ever heard. Using a broad mix of musical styles - usually more jazz than new age but impossible to classify - Mueller puts a very personal spin on a collection of eighteen songs of the season that includes several medleys. From the gorgeous cover artwork to the extended liner notes on Mueller’s website, this project was very lovingly created as a personal expression of the joy and meaning of the Christmas holidays. Most of the carols in this collection originated in Europe and are familiar - none of them include Santa, Rudolph or Frosty. If you are shopping for a singalong album, this one probably won’t do it for you, but if you are looking for a different interpretation of Christmas songs that is bright and mostly upbeat, be sure to check this one out!

Midwinter Born begins with “The First Noel.” Mueller’s arrangement is distinctive with the melody played very simply in the upper bass clef and a sparkling ostinato right hand that dances as it emulates the cold and shining beauty of midwinter evenings; the last verse is a gentle expression of love and tenderness. “Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” is playful and carefree. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is arranged in what Mueller calls a “more solemn New Age jazz-blues universe” - a dark yet fanciful interpretation that really works. One of the biggest surprises is “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” played with a Dave Brubeck-inspired “Take Five” rhythm. I’m always amazed at how well this song (GRYMG) adapts to almost any musical treatment, and this one blows me away - mostly because it works so incredibly well! Mueller calls his arrangement of “O Holy Night” “a moody modal soft shoe reverie” and it is a really different, fascinating interpretation. “Veni, Veni Immanuel” is set to a driving one-note beat, expressing the energy required and fun one can have while searching the Messiah. “Good King Wenceslas Comes A-wassailing” is a two-part medley that is often buoyant and jazzy as it tells of the kindness of a king and of beggars and orphans dancing in the snowy streets hoping for warmth and treats. In “Joy To The World,” Mueller tells the story of Christ’s birth from Mary’s perspective, hinting at the tragedy that would come later. The medley of “Still, Still, Still” and “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” creates feelings of quiet and peacefulness; Mueller’s improvisation in the middle reaches into the depths of the night sky. The album closes with a bonus track called “Toyland Fantasy” that was recorded several years ago with Mueller on synths, Moog, organ, and bass and Jim Edwards on electric guitar. Segments of several songs are included, wrapped in colorful spirits and festive ribbons of sound.

Midwinter Born is a great choice for those looking for a really different and creative Christmas album. It is available from tobinmueller.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CDBaby. Cheers!
September 2, 2013
This review has been tagged as:
Holiday Albums