These are hard albums to pull off. The seasonal music release is a long-time staple of the music industry and most of the examples we can recall are usually nothing more than well-produced cash-in releases not particularly invested in sincerely celebrating the season but rather entertaining those who do. However, The Gothard Sisters, based out of the Pacific Northwest, have a rather different take. Their ten song collection Falling Snow covers a number of “standards” that any adult music fan will recognize from countless Yuletide seasons gone by as well as a handful of lesser-recognized songs in the same tradition. They tackle the songs with a breadth of musical knowledge that often incorporates unexpected instruments and their interpretations of much of the material have subtle and imaginative variations on what we might expect.
This is quite apparent on the opener “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, but not initially. The song begins with a languid, mood setting pace before the sisters spice things up noticeably. The song’s second half seems to better embody the joyfulness of the lyrics better than many other interpretations of the material thanks to its exuberance. Some of the album’s songs are instrumentals and few of them succeed more than the album’s second track “Christmas Flower”. The sisters, unsurprisingly perhaps, have excellent musical chemistry between them and trade off instrumental lines with a fluidity born of experience and artistic telepathy. Their version of “Winter Wonderland” is a pure delight. The fluid bass notes anchoring the song give the sisters a firm foundation over which they can weave melodic magic and it manifests itself most clearly in how they alternate the vocals. Solana Gothard takes most of the lead vocal chores in The Gothard Sisters songs, but her sisters Willow and Greta are quite capable backing singers and their performances often alternate between solo and harmony vocals to great effect.
“Good King Wenceslas” is a perfect example of The Gothard Sisters’ wide musical knowledge. This lesser known Yuletide classic dates to the first half of the 19th century, but its melodic pedigree stretches back even further to the 1500’s. The Gothard Sisters are able to make this relatively obscure song seem every bit as familiar as what we hear in any department store or mall with much more musical credibility. Greta Gothard’s stylish guitar playing is a key component in the success of “French Carol”, but additional instrumentation fleshes it out further. Their take on the eternal Christmas classic “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” has all of the melodic strength we customarily associate with the song while still, thanks to the efforts of The Gothard Sisters and their lyrical violin, possessing a windswept grandeur that we may not normally associate with this song.
They pull from a much more modern tradition with their performance of “The Happy Elf”. It’s an outing that gathers more musical magic as it progresses and sweeps listeners along for the melodic ride. “The Skater’s Waltz” is another older song, relatively popular still in modern Christmas music, dating back to the late 19th century. It’s classical origins are quite apparent still in The Gothard Sister’s arrangement and they play the song in such a way that their own contribution to its tradition is infused with their signature style. Perhaps no other song on Falling Snow best represents this three piece’s ability to transform traditional music to their own creative ends like “Joy to the World”. While many versions of this stalwart Christmas classic often take a reverential air, The Gothard Sisters seem very tuned into embodying the joy referred to in the song title and this is the ebullient result. Joy and sincerity come from every one of these ten songs and it makes Falling Snow one of the most rewarding releases of this Christmas season.