2. Angels We Have Heard On High
3. Oh Come All Ye Faithful
4. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem
5. It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
6. The First Noel
7. Away In A Manger
8. We Three Kings
9. Coventry Carol
10. Bright Star on a Cold Snowy Night
11. Christmas Time Is Here
12. Silver Bells
13. O Holy Night
14. What Child Is This?
15. Silent Night
16. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
17. I'll Be Home For Christmas
18. Christmas Angels
19. The Spirit of Giving
21. Auld Lang Syne
David and a partner opened up Franklin Guitar and Repair in 2004. Two years later, the partner left and David had to get off the road to tend to the business. As it happened, he'd been working on an album in memory of his older brother, Ed, who had died of lung cancer in 2001. Ed had taught him his first songs on the guitar. It wasn't anything he intended to release. That wasn't why he did it and it wasn't what it was about. But David had some friends who thought the music was something others would enjoy hearing and, thus, "Dreaming" was released in 2010.
Cut to today and we have David's first ever solo Christmas album, "A Christmas Gift". Amazon has the album listed as "Classical" and, sure, I get that. But that's not really what I heard when I was listening for the first time. In fact, I'd have a hard time putting "A Christmas Gift" into a single category of any kind. "Classical", to me (and, yes, it's a personal bias I'm aware is unfair), makes me think of stuffy people in frilly outfits doing those Victorian era dances where everything is perfectly synchronized but you never actually touch your dance partner. What I hear listening to David Wood on "A Christmas Gift" is someone who has played guitar for a good many years bringing the sum total of what he's learned in all that time to this moment in time and channeling it all through his guitar. So there's a little bit of a lot of things in here but, mostly, a whole lot of David Wood's soul. Every note is conveyed with a kind of love that's impossible to fake and with the gentle tenderness of a father holding his new born son or daughter for the first time.
Other tracks give me a New Agey vibe. "What Child Is This?" and "Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel", in particular, have that meditative quality and call to mind a visual image of butterflies softly dancing around a Chinese lantern. In spite of the excesses of the season and the "Happy Happy Joy Joy" of much of the music that can be headache inducing, many of the traditional carols are written in a minor key. Sometimes its magic and sometimes not so much. "Emmanuel" has always struck me as a bit mournful, but the quiet reverence Wood brings to it pulls the tune up to the place where the season's best songs live--where sadness and longing co-exist with joy and hope and, in the end, the latter prevail. (I know some of my analogies are off the wall, but what "Emmanuel" made me think of was Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man And The Sea". Honestly. Sort of a "dignity in the face of struggle" kind of thing. Now take that to a therapist and I'm sure they'll call me crazy. And they wouldn't be wrong.)
Still other tracks have a folksy fireside quality that you might expect from a Country music veteran spending some time alone under the stars. "Away In A Manger", "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear", for me, exemplify that feel.
Still other songs call to mind other genres, a bit of a Jazz accent here or a bit of a Pop accent there. Every time I get to the end of "We Three Kings", my mind can't resist launching immediately into "Roundabout" by Yes (just sayin').
"Silent Night" features qualities of all of those "vibes". And "Oh Holy Night" is presented in a pretty straight forward manner...just the way I like it.
Overall, David Wood's "A Christmas Gift" is about as beautiful as a solo guitar Christmas album can be. It's a superb blend of beauty, serenity, and reverence. The acoustics are perfect. And the man, himself, injects enough honest love into his craft to bring even the most irredeemable Scrooge first to his knees and then on to heaven. Works well as either background or foreground. If I had one complaint, it's that some of the tracks are shorter than I'd like. But that's mitigated by the fact that there are 21 of them. So, in the end, you feel comfortably satisfied.
A couple of the best tracks, I haven't even mentioned yet. Certainly, "Christmas Time Is Here" is easily among the album's brightest stars. And, speaking of bright stars, I am drawn to "Bright Star On a Snowy Night" in ways I can't even figure out internally, let alone put into words. I just keep going back to it. Other highlights for me include "Oh Holy Night", "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel" and "Auld Lang Syne".
As always, I encourage you to give "A Christmas Gift" a listen and pick your own favorites. It's well worth your time. And let me add that "Dreaming" is a pretty awesome listen, too. I could lose myself in "Improvisation on a Blues Ruff" alone for about a week.