Craig and Kara Markley’s Once Upon a Winter Moon

cover art for Once Upon a Winter's MoonCleveland-area musician Craig Markley showcases the emerging vocal talent of his daughter Kara in this self-produced offering for the holiday season. In the title track, a plaintive flute melody over brooding synthesizer chords leads into a setting of the medieval Latin Christmas hymn “Gaudete” set to an insistent syncopated rhythm. When the initial tune returns over the added beat, it enriches the texture without clashing with it — an intriguing blend of the ancient and the modern.

Several of the ensuing numbers are riffs on familiar Christmas carols, with a few surprises. Usually a melody is introduced with a simple one- or two-instrument accompaniment, gradually elaborated to an emotional climax. “What Child Is This” and “The Evening Song” (a translation of a traditional German carol with original music) fall into this category, as does the instrumental “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” With the melody in the strings and hammered dulcimer, piano and light percussion beneath, the latter gives a particularly effective rendering of the plangent, modal tune, ending with a swirling of pipes off into the distance. “Silent Night” in Spanish with flamenco-style guitar, a toe-tapping arrangement of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “Carol of the Bells” as a fantasia for synthesizer, whistle and percussion round out the holiday set. “The Water Is Wide” has been included as well, seemingly simply because it is beautiful.

There’s nothing wildly original here, but the arrangements are well-crafted and pleasant to listen to. The two original instrumentals, “Lady With the Silver Thread” (by Craig) and “Tinuviel” (by Kara) are cut from the same cloth, fitting in seamlessly with the more traditional melodies. Least to my taste on the album were the two purely contemporary songs, “Lay Down the Burden” and “Christmas Day Is Here,” in which sentiment overbalances musicality. On the whole, though, it’s a rather engaging collection, good background music which is also worth a more concentrated listen. (The CD-size moon photo on the inside of the case is cool too.)

Kara’s voice is well-centered, strong and joyful. She tends to sing always with the same degree of intensity, which can be tiring to listen to for long periods of time. As she matures she may develop more subtlety in her style. She also plays fiddle on many of the tracks with sensitivity and grace. Where her talent will lead her, only time will tell.

(Lone Raven Music, 2004)

Lory Hess

She started reading at age two and never stopped. Now with a two-year-old of her own, she is looking forward to revisiting old favorites (and he'd better like them too!). While not attending to the personal needs of her favorite executive, she serves as Managing Editor for the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America in Chestnut Ridge, New York, and has published essays in Parabola, LILIPOH, and Interweave Knits. An enthusiast of knitting, felting, and other fiber crafts, her next goal is to learn to use her new spinning wheel.

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