For adventurous music fans, it happens every year when the holidays roll around. When we make our holiday playlists, we want some of our tried and true favorites – but after a while, the constant loop of those wears thin and we find ourselves on the hunt for fresh voices, unique expressions and new approaches to traditional carols - and maybe even a few new pieces that set the intimate, wintry mood.
Those whose tastes leans towards new age vocal recordings need look no further for that glorious outlier this year than We Follow the Star – an inviting and inspirational collection showcasing the vast, eclectic talents of veteran composer/keyboardist Richard Dillon and, on eight of the nine tracks, the stunning ethereal vocals of Corinne Seganos. Comprised of seven very traditional carols, some immediately recognizable, a few delightfully obscure, the engaging collection finds Dillon exploring a blend of fresh, folksy, Irish leaning vibes and lush, atmospheric textures.
As producer, he creates and orchestrates a soul-stirring fusion of his lush melodies and mystical keyboard wizardry with guest instrumentalists that stir a traditional, organic flow. These include Sherry Finzer (alto flute), Yair Avidor (lute), Epaminondas Trimis (percussion), Edoardo Tancredi (drums), Stephanie Nagler (violin) and Steve Kim (fretless bass).
Diggin into Dillon’s growing discography reveals that We Follow the Star is not Dillon’s first foray into Christmas music. Many of the songs on his 2016 collection What Child Is This?, however, are more simply arranged piano oriented productions. The reflective, melodic title track “We Follow the Star” is a perfect example of how Dillon’s sonic palette has expanded. His earlier version is stark and haunting, almost like he’s playing the ivories from an echoing distance. Dillion’s new version is a warmer, deeply intimate experience, with Nagler’s violin carrying the beautiful, increasingly whimsical melody as the keyboardist paints orchestral textures around it. Dillon’s other original “A Winter’s Night” is an immersive, spacey ambient experience, beginning with an angelic vocal choir before Seganos chimes in with an old English styled narrative of “bringing hope where was despair.”
In and around those originals at the start of the set, Dillon and Seganos regale us with dreamy, sensual and hypnotic versions of lesser known, deeply poetic traditional carols that should invite some historical googling: the traditional Irish piece “Wexford Carol,” the flute driven Canadian hymn “Huron Carol” (Canada’s oldest Christmas song) and the lyrical 16th Century piece “Coventry Carol.”
The second half of the collection features Dillon and Seganos’ unique twists on three much more familiar spiritual gems, starting with her sweetly understated vocal over his delicate orchestral arrangement on a meditative “Silent Night.” One of the most whimsical, percussive tracks is their spirited Irish folk romp through “I Saw Three Ships,” an artful mix of colorful storytelling and violin-centered celebration. They take a similar, though slightly less percussive approach to “What Child Is This?” bringing fresh life to the “Greensleeves” based tune with solemn, angelic vocals and sweeping synth. The set closes with another Irish twist, this time a gracefully swaying version of the likewise poetic “In The Bleak Midwinter,” first set to music in The English Hymnal in 1906.