Rani Arbo &
daisy mayhem

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Wintersong

Released in 2016

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We New Englanders have two primary seasonal coping mechanisms for wintertime: introspection and celebration. Hole up and think about your life, then go out and party. Wintersong does both, swinging from hushed settings of verses by Longfellow and Tennyson to fiddle- and percussion-driven New Year’s shouts from the Georgia Sea Islands and Louisiana. We throw in some fiddle and banjo, lots of electric guitar, four part harmonies, and covers from Ron Sexsmith, Michael Doucet, Chrissie Hynde, Tommy Thompson, and Jesse Winchester, whose opening lyric pretty much sums it up: “Once upon a Christmas morning / there was a pretty little baby boy / seems like I remember sadness / mingling with the joy.”

Wintersong skips right over the holiday canon — there are no jingle bells here, no mistletoe, and only one fleeting reference to Santa. Don’t get us wrong – we love Christmas as merry as can be. But with this album, we went for songs that dig up the power, the beauty and the hopeful yearning at the roots of this holiday. They are full of fierce poetry and wild joy; this album is our ode to light and dark, and to the balance of both at the turning of the year.

Read liner notes and lyrics here or by clicking on individual tracks below.

  1. Let’s Make a Baby King

    Jesse Winchester (BMG Bumblebee OBO Musique Chanteclaire)

    The late great Jessie Winchester wrote this colloquial take on the Christmas story. It’s a bluesy portrait of ordinary people finding themselves caught up in their God’s greater plan. — Andrew

    Once upon a Christmas morning
    There was a pretty little baby boy
    It seems like I remember sadness
    Mingling in the joy

    ‘Cause Mary saw the future
    And the sadness it would bring
    That’s why Mary started crying
    When she heard the angels sing

    Let’s make a Baby King
    Let’s make Him Lord of all
    Let’s give Him everything
    Let’s make a Baby King

    Well, now, you remember little King David
    He’s this little baby’s kin
    He was cousin to a man named John
    See, I know you all remember Him

    ‘Cause John said, “Let’s get ready
    Herald angels sing
    ‘Cause this old world sure needs to know
    The good news that I bring”

    Now, see, we need a revolution
    This whole world’s upside down
    And we need a new direction
    We got to turn this whole thing around

    We need a Lord to guide us
    And teach us wrong from right
    And we need a lamb to lead us
    Into the land of the light

  2. Yonder Come Day

    Bessie Jones and the Sea Island Singers recorded this for Alan Lomax in 1960, describing it as a Christmas or New Year’s “shout” after an all-night service. A good song for dawn on the shortest days of the year, and for keeping an eye on hope. — Rani

    Yonder come day, I heard him say
    Yonder come day, It’s a dying day
    Yonder come day, It’s a burying day
    Yonder come day, I was on my knees
    Yonder come day, When I heard him say
    Yonder come day, That’s a New Year’s day
    Day done broke into my soul
    Yonder come day, well, come on, child,
    Yonder come day

  3. Julian of Norwich

    Sydney Carter (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society, LTD)

    Based on the writings of 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich, this simple and beautiful hymn comes from English poet Sydney Carter. I grew up listening to this song on vinyl, comforted by the refrain “all shall be well again, I know.” The daffodil, a medieval symbol of Spring, figures heavily.  — Andrew

    Loud are the bells of Norwich and the people come and go
    Here by the tower of Julian I tell them what I know
    Ring out bells of Norwich and Let the winter come and go
    All shall be well again, I know

    Love like the yellow daffodil is coming through the snow
    Love like the yellow daffodil is Lord of all I know
    Ring for the yellow daffodil, the flower in the snow
    Ring for the yellow daffodil and tell them what I know

    All shall be well I’m telling you, let the winter come and go
    All shall be well again, I know.

     

  4. Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

    This 400-year-old German carol (Es ist ein Ros entsprungen) is a favorite from my childhood as a cathedral chorister. More recently, it became a bedtime favorite — quietly plucked on clawhammer banjo in the dark — for our young son.  — Rani

    Lo, how a rose e’er blooming
    From tender stem hath sprung,
    Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
    As men of old have sung.
    It came a flow’ret bright
    Amid the cold of winter
    When half-spent was the night.

    Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
    This Rose that I have in mind.
    And with Mary we behold it,
    The Virgin Mother so sweet and so kind.
    To show God’s love aright,
    She bore to men a Saviour
    When half-spent was the night.

    O Flower, whose fragrance tender
    With sweetness fills the air,
    Dispel with glorious splendor
    The darkness everywhere;
    True man, yet very God,
    From Sin and death now save us,
    And share our every load.

     

  5. Children, Go Where I Send Thee

    One of the more classic Christmas songs on the record, Children Go is a lesson song from the African American tradition. As such it’s often covered in a somewhat solemn, teacherly way. I’ve always loved its rhythmic exuberance and thought it would be fun to let the song be more of a wild celebration. — Anand

    Children, go where I send thee,
    How shall I send thee?
    I’m gonna send thee one by one
    One for the little bitty baby
    Born, born, born in Bethlehem.

    Children, go where I send thee,
    How shall I send thee?
    I’m gonna send thee two by two
    Two for Paul and Silas
    One for the little bitty baby
    Born, born, born in Bethlehem.

    Three for the Hebrew children…
    Four for the four that stood at the door…
    Five for the gospel preachers…
    Six for the six that never got fixed…
    Seven for the seven that never got to heaven…
    Eight for the eight that stood at the gate…
    Nine for the nine all dressed so fine…
    Ten for the ten commandments…
    Eleven for the eleven deriders…
    Twelve for the twelve Apostles…

  6. Hot Buttered Rum

    Charles “Tommy” Thompson (BMG Bumblebee, OBO Southern Melody Publishing)

    Tommy Thompson was the original banjo player for the famed North Carolina-based Red Clay Ramblers. I love how this song invokes the salt and sweet of Christmas. What do you throw at dime store Santas, tinsel angels, dreary decorations, and bitter cold? Human connection.  — Rani

    When chimney smoke hangs still and low across the stubbled fields of snow
    And angry skies reach down and seize the sorry blackened bones of trees
    In the dead of winter when the silent snowbirds come
    You’re my sweet maple sugar, honey, hot buttered rum

    When dreary Christmas decorations line the streets and filling stations
    And dime store Santas can’t disguise their empty hands and empty eyes
    In the dead of winter when the tinsel angels come
    You’re my sweet maple sugar, honey, hot buttered rum

    When gloves and boots and woolen parkas bring cold comfort to the heart
    And bitter memories freeze the tongue and songs of love are left unsung
    In the dead of winter when the cold feelings come
    You’re my sweet maple sugar, honey, hot buttered rum

  7. 2000 Miles

    Chrissie Hynde (EMI April Music, Inc.)

    Chrissy Hynde wrote this Pretenders’ single for a bandmate who had passed away. In its simple way, it captures the essence of one of the deeper aspects of the winter holidays. Amid the other-worldly beauty of winter, as the year draws to a close and we hover between past and future, our losses can take on a certain clarity. But the children are singing, and around we go. — Anand

    He’s gone two thousand miles
    It’s very far
    The snow is falling down
    It’s colder day by day
    I miss you
    The children are singing
    He’ll be back at Christmastime

    In these frozen and silent nights
    Sometimes in a dream you appear
    Outside under a purple sky
    Diamonds in the snow sparkle
    Our hearts were singing
    It felt like Christmastime

    Two thousand miles
    Is very far through the snow
    I’ll think of you
    Wherever you go

    He’s gone two thousand miles
    It’s very far
    The snow is falling down
    It’s colder day by day
    I miss you

    I can hear people singing
    It must be Christmastime
    I hear people singing
    It must be Christmastime

  8. Maybe This Christmas

    Ron Sexsmith (Sony/ATV Songs LLC OBO Samp-UK LTD)

    From the pen of Canadian Ron Sexsmith, a gorgeous prayer for meaning and redemption from a holiday that doesn’t always live up to the hype. Recommended listening for the car ride to your relative’s house. — Andrew

    Maybe this Christmas will mean something more
    Maybe this year love will appear
    Deeper than ever before

    And maybe forgiveness will ask us to call
    Someone we love, someone we’ve lost
    For reasons we can’t quite recall, oh

    Maybe this Christmas
    Maybe there’ll be an open door
    Maybe the star that shined before
    Will shine once more, oh

    And maybe this Christmas will find us at last
    In Heavenly peace,
    Grateful at least
    For the love we’ve been shown in the past, oh
    Maybe this Christmas, maybe this Christmas

  9. Ring Out, Wild Bells

    Words: Alfred, Lord Tennyson
    Music: Rani Arbo (Jinn Mill Music)

    When we decided to make this album, I went looking for poems, and this one struck me hard. Tennyson published it in 1850 after the death of his sister’s fiancée at the age of 22; it is part of a longer elegy, In Memoriam. It seems to balance an unshakeable grief with a need to articulate hope. In my reading — and in this musical setting — the grief is winning, even while it’s understood that hope is the only way forward. I didn’t record Tennyson’s last verse; it was more powerful to me to end with a thousand years of peace.  — Rani

    Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    The flying cloud, the frosty light
    The year is dying in the night;
    Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

    Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    The year is going, let him go;
    Ring out the false, ring in the true.

    Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
    For those that here we see no more,
    Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
    Ring in redress to all mankind.

    Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
    The faithless coldness of the times;
    Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
    But ring the fuller minstrel in.

    Ring out false pride in place and blood,
    The civic slander and the spite;
    Ring in the love of truth and right,
    Ring in the common love of good.

    Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
    Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
    Ring out the thousand wars of old,
    Ring in the thousand years of peace.

    (Tennyson’s final verse, not sung):

    Ring in the valiant man and free,
    The larger heart the kindlier hand;
    Ring out the darkness of the land,
    Ring in the Christ that is to be.

  10. Bonne Annee

    Canray Fontenot and Michael Doucet (Flat Town Music Co., ADO Swallow Publications, Inc.)

    I first heard Michael Doucet’s Cajun fiddling on stage with the “American Folk Violin” tour in 1988, a show that pretty much decided my musical future. Of this collaboration with the legendary Creole fiddler Canray Fontenot, Michael writes: “One of Canray Fontenot’s greatest creative qualities was the fact that he remembered many unaccompanied ballads or story songs and sang them in his own deeply resonating voice.  I loved singing Bonne Année with him and I would accompany him with my fiddle.  He liked my arrangement and encouraged me to record my version.  Every time I sing it my heart is filled with his memory and our precious time spent together.” The words translate to:  “Hello, Happy New Year, Madame (and Monseiur)! What is your wish?” Many thanks to Yvette Landry for help with the Cajun French pronunciation, which we nevertheless certainly botched.  — Rani

    Bonjour, bonne année
    Quelle est souhaite à tous
    Hereuse, hereuse année
    Quelle est souhaite à tous

    Bonjour, bonne année
    Bonne année, Madame
    Hereuse, hereuse
    Quelle est souhaite à tous?

     

    Bonjour bonne
    Bonne année, Monseiur
    Hereuse, hereuse année
    Quelle est souhaite à tous?

    Bonjour bonne année, Madame
    Bonjour, bonne année, bonne année, Monseiur
    Et bonjour bonne année, Madame
    Bonjour, bonne année, bonne année, Monseiur 

    Hereuse, hereuse année
    Quelle est souhaite à tous?
    Hereuse, hereuse année
    Quelle est souhaite à tous

    (repeat verse)

    Bonjour bonne année
    Quelle est souhaite à tous?
    Hereuse, hereuse année
    Quelle est souhaite à tous?

    Hereuse, hereuse année
    Quelle est souhaite à tous
    Hereuse, hereuse année
    Quelle est souhaite à tous?

  11. Christmas Bells

    Words: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    Music: Anand Nayak (Dizzydog Music)

    When Rani sent it to me, I wasn’t acquainted with either Longfellow’s anti-war lament (written after the loss of his son and wife) or its famous musical settings, many of which favor the peaceful, Christmas-y verses and downplay the anti-war part. Perhaps having a blank slate helped the music of it to leap off the page as I read it. It tolls the eternal holiday message of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” even as peace is mocked by hate and obliterated by war. Hopefully, the bell keeps ringing. — Anand

    I heard the bells on Christmas Day
    Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And thought how, as the day had come,
    The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Till ringing, singing on its way,
    The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Then from each black, accursed mouth
    The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    It was as if an earthquake rent
    The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And in despair I bowed my head;
    “There is no peace on earth,” I said;
    “For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

  12. A Christmas Carol

    Words: G.K. Chesterton
    Music: Rani Arbo (Jinn Mill Music)

    I love how lean these verses are, and how alive.   — Rani

    The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap
    His hair was like a light.
    (O weary, weary were the world,
    But here is all alright.)

    The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast
    His hair was like a star.
    (O stern and cunning are the kings,
    But here the true hearts are.)

    The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
    His hair was like a fire.
    (O weary, weary is the world,
    But here the world’s desire.)

    The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
    His hair was like a crown,
    And all the flowers looked up at Him,
    And all the stars looked down.

  13. Singing in the Land

    Thanks for this traditional Appalachian song are due to Elizabeth Mitchell, who recorded it beautifully on her album, The Sounding Joy. I must add: I’m grateful for the 17 years of singing together, and with our audiences, that add up to moments like these.  — Rani

    Singin’ (walking, dancing, praying) in the land, singing in the land
    Singing in the land, I’m a long way from home
    Singing in the land, singing in the land
    Baby of Bethlehem

    Oh Mother (Father, Sister, Brother) don’t you want to go to heaven?
    Oh, Mother don’t you want to go to heaven
    Oh, Mother don’t you want to go to heaven
    Baby of Bethlehem