Winter Rose feels like it might be the perfect Christmas music for 2020. The album is more introspective and wistful than most Christmas albums. There are more non-traditional pieces on it. In fact it is the mix of Christmas songs, original compositions and classical music that makes it stand out.
Winter Rose and La Semana were recorded around the same time. In fact, Le Cafe was recorded prior to Cocteau although the latter was released first. If you hear the two pieces back to back you will hear that the rhythm is identical while the arrangement and the melody are very different.
Westcoast is dedicated to Roger “Snake” Klein, the A+R person who signed me to Epic Records in 1991, after hearing NF at a Tower Records store. For most of the Nineties Snake would ask me every year when I would record a Christmas album for Epic. One time he told me that I didn’t have to actually play Christmas songs… if I wanted to I could record anything: “Just add some sleigh bells to it and it will sound Christmas-ey.” So Jon added a bunch of different bells to the song that became Westcoast. The percussion is from a live recording that was made at The Triple Door in Seattle during the 2004 tour. Robby played the cajon and the dumbek, which you can hear during the bass solo towards the end of the song, was played by Ron Wagner. Judging by the tempo and the rhythm the drums were taken from the live recording of La Luna. The guitar melody was one long improvisation I came up with while listening to the percussion and the rest of the piece was built around that. Very unusual for me to record a melody without rhythm guitars and bass…
In 2014 SSRI released a version of Westcoast on the album Bare Wood 2002-2012 that featured Jon playing upright acoustic bass. It was dedicated to the memory of Tony Green, the tall Aussie, who heard NF playing somewhere in 1990 and decided to start a company that would import the album into Australia. Under his guidance NF went Platinum in both Australia and New Zealand.
Les Roses D’Isphahan is a lovely piece. Here the bass plays much of the melody. The very last sound is a recording of my hand hitting one of the three steel rain catchers that my dad designed and which are stationed around my house. From CultureCourt.com:
But surely, as some advance listeners have proclaimed, the best track is Les Roses d’Isphahan, OL’s interpretation of Gabriel Faure’s [1845-1924] homage to the ancient Persian city known for its superlative rug weaving. While Faure was mining romanticism the same way that Coleridge used the ancient world in the opium fantasy Kubla Khan, he was also evoking the poetic image of the rose, which of course is used as a mandala motif on many Persian rugs.
No question, this is a landmark interpretation. It’s really a duet between OL’s guitar and JG’s bass as lead, with some synth as back-color. Nice big valley echo here and there, and believe it or not, the ghost of jingle bells in one passage. The spacey call & response between the flamenco guitar and the fretless bass, cadenced like roses floating on a river, beauty flowing through… memories flowing… you, flowing. Melancholy? Sure, but a masterpiece of the continuously unfolding melody form.
Kora/River of Stars starts with Robby playing the Kora – I am pretty sure I took this from another live recording, an intro for Snakecharmer that we developed during the 2004 tour. From CultureCourt.com:
The mood is never allowed to collapse into sentiment, although sentiment is used. Tradition sets the ceremony, although the ceremony includes reggae… just as in Track 7, Kora/River of Stars. This is one beautiful number. For those familiar with Ottmar Liebert, you’ll recognize his jazz octave ghosting, and the hypnotic flamenco glides. Bassist Jon Gagan is riding shotgun on the old sleigh here, so you bump into reggae time, and then space out on the “river of stars” via JG’s big string harmonics and synth squeals.
O Little Town of Bethlehem/City of Tijuana. From CultureCourt.com:
A time to reflect, a time to party. As a collection of classic Christmas refits and original OL compositions, the concept here is brilliant. The kids have gone to bed, you’re on the couch dreaming in front of the fire, a glass of wine, a glass of Napoleon B, who knows, but you’re dreaming. Track 2 is playing, Little Town of Bethlehem/The City of Tijuana… people you miss, people you love… then there’s a gentle shift into electro fiesta time, and you’re south of the border, maybe in some dodgy cantina slinging back Aztec Golds as the fireworks explode… and then, gently, you’re back in acoustic Bethlehem in the snowfields under the stars. Amazing compositional control here, this double-character style that’s the signature of Winter Rose. mail
The last track on the album is a version of Le Cafe with a crunching snow section – recorded while I walked from my house to the studio.