Erwilian – Midwinter's Night (2010)

Share this:

By Nick DeRiso

At once neo-renaissance, new age and something akin to blissed-out bluegrass, Erwilian’s holiday-themed concert recording Midwinter’s Night neatly sidesteps the pre-conceived notion of sickly sweet Yuletide fare.

Midwinter’s Night, instead, is a concert souvenir from warm night of remembrance, affection and camaraderie – sparked by these friendly-as-family band members, who frequently interact. This cozy framework, coupled with an adroit musical inventiveness, unbinds the album from convention.

Erwilian is free to reference rock star Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple fame, the spiraling joys of Celtic fusion, and Burl Ives – the voice of reason as Sam the Snowman on the long-running “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” television special. They then blend conventional instrumentation like guitars, recorders and guitars with the exotic sounds of bouzouki and hammered dulcimer.

That imbues the inviting Midwinter’s Night, Erwilian’s third full-length offering, with a timeless quality.

Scott Melton, who cofounded the band in 2000 with producer Jordan Buetow, quickly sets the tone on the dulcimer with the festive album-opener “In Convivio.”

That traditional tune, among several arranged by Melton and Buetow, is from Erwilian’s 2002 release of the same name – and one of several highlights from throughout their catalog. The Kent, Wash.-based group also includes newer compositions like the winkingly inventive “Wandering” and “This Little Babe,” which sounds at times like a dense, propulsive remake of “We Three Kings.”

Erwilian isn’t afraid to begin crafting new traditions, something the group stopped to encourage everyone toward during these shows from the winter of 2008-09: “These are times when you make traditions. Those traditions define what family is. Family is what people carry with them.”

In keeping, “A-Wassailing” builds out from “God Rest You, Merry Gentleman,” with Buetow taking up both the tiny garklein and soprano recorders.

“Wandering” is a highlight, as Erwilian deftly combines the old-time Christmas composition “I Wonder as I Wander” with “The Wayfaring Stranger,” a theme long associated with Ives.

Having handily avoided Yuletide banality, Erwilian next escapes the trap of becoming a same-sounding Celtic curio.

“South Prairie Rain,” the title track from a 2005 Erwilian release, gains an astral, otherworldly feel through Bill Bowser’s guitar – like waking up in the middle of a dream. That’s followed by “Villancicos,” meaning “Christmas carol” in Spanish, which couldn’t be any different: A lively jig that revs up almost to the point of vibrating this band right off the stage.

Who can say if they’d miss a beat?

Accomplished musicians, the members of Erwilian move thrillingly from instrument to instrument, adding layer upon layer of collaborative artistry.

On the traditional “Billy in the Lowground/Swinging on a Gate,” the group skips along like children through new snow, powered by Robert Schuweiler’s mandolin and another ringing dulcimer run, this time by Melton’s wife Bethel. The diaphanous “Calling Birds” follows, and it also features a dulcimer – but this time by Buetow, who adds a twilight texture of complexity.

Back on alto recorder, Buetow makes sure “Memories” doesn’t sound anywhere near as serious as it might have, rumbling along like a dear friend telling expansive old tales. Melton’s return to the dulcimer adds a cascading counterpoint, seeming to finish sentences and then to add a funny aside.

“Gigues,” with a randy bit of percussion by Jeff Reed, provides this vigorous finale to a moment as welcome as it is unusual: Erwilian has produced a Christmas album with nary a bough of holly or jolly old elf to be found. In so doing, they invigorate the heart and mind.

[Click HERE to purchase Erwilian’s “Midwinter’s Night” on Amazon.]

Midwinter’s Night, a soul-lifting album free of gimmicks from the season or the genre, is a literate, glistening amalgam – and the perfect antidote to jingle-bell schlock.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
Share this: