Laurelyn Dossett, Rhiannon Giddens, Mike Compton – The Gathering (2011)

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The Gathering, a homey Christmas-themed Americana and roots album, features singer-songwriter Laurelyn Dossett and others recording in a suitably rustic locale: a house in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Dossett, whose song “Anna Lee” appears on Levon Helm’s Dirt Farmer and live Ramble at the Ryman projects, was originally commissioned to write a six-song cycle by the North Carolina Symphony focusing on a prodigal daughter’s return in the midst of a cold, dark Appalachian night. Those tracks, imaginative and involving, now form the heart of The Gathering.

The group also steers into more familiar fare, but even then they do so with a craftsman’s flair. Mike Compton (John Hartford, Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes) offers a loving tribute, for instance, on Hartford’s “On Christmas Eve”; Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops reformulates “O Holy Night” as a bass and voice duet with Jason Sypher. Elsewhere, they also pick, fiddle and reminisce their way through a knee-slapping hootenanny of Yuletide-themed favorites — including “On This Christmas Day,” “I Wonder as I Wonder” and “Christ Was Born on Christmas Day.”

But you’ll keep coming back to the originals — in particular standout cuts like “Redbird Lullabye” and “String of Pearls,” which seem to push and pull between a longing for home, and the need to roam. They imbue this project with deeper, more complex emotions than most seasonal offerings would dare attempt.

The Gathering. Laurelyn Dossett, Rhiannon Giddens, Mike Compton, Joe Newberry and Jason Sypher from Laurelyn Dossett on Vimeo.

Dossett, whose main band is called Polecat Creek, has also had a tune (“Leaving Eden”) recorded by Giddens and the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. Compton, a longtime member of the Nashville Bluegrass Band, has also recorded with Doc Watson, Gregg Allman, Ralph Stanley, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and T-Bone Burnett. The multi-instrumentalist Joe Newberry, first-place winner at the Appalachian String Band Music Festival, has appeared on a Prairie Home Companion. The double bassist Sypher has performed with Irma Thomas, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and others.

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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
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