Sounds like … Christmas music grounded in medieval, classical, and progressive rock influences for fans of Yes, Kansas, and the conceptual side of Neal Morse, not to mention some Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller.
At a glance … the veteran member of ArkAngel, RadioHalo, and (for a short time) Caedmon's Call returns with an epic album that literally hearkens back to the medieval period, but is completely unique and timeless nonetheless.
He's never earned tremendous commercial success, but Kemper Crabb is a veteran musician who's not only a critical favorite, but also respected by many major artists. The one time member of ArkAngel, RadioHalo and even Caedmon's Call (briefly) is most regularly regarded for the 1982 solo album The Vigil, which was heralded by Yes' Rick Wakeman, Kansas' Kerry Livgren, and even Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Between now and then, Crabb's been ordained to the priesthood in the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches and also continues recording on occasion, leading to Downe In Yon Forrest: Christmas From the Middle Ages on CD and also on DVD (culled from a recent PBS broadcast). In both contexts, the body of work is inspired by the medieval period, which intersects with classical and lighter progressive rock influences akin to Wakeman and Livgren (and their respective acts).
Even with those points of reference, this Christmas CD stands in a class of its own, starting with the remarkably unique nature of the arrangements. Songs like "What Child Is This" and "I Saw Three Ships" have been covered many times before, but the eclectic world beats on the former (presented as an instrumental) or the galloping guitars and luminous strings throughout the latter are distinctively Crabb. The only other immediately recognizable Christmas carol is "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," but at nearly twelve minutes, the Celtic jam session reads much closer to something from a Neal Morse concert than a tried and true traditional.
Even more interesting are tunes plucked from this particular time period, like the gorgeous and provocative hymn "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent," which matches a series of stunning stringed instruments over Crabb's calming chants. "Down in Yon Forrest" is an epic piece of Yuletide praise that saunters with violins and various acoustic orchestration that can legitimately transport listeners back to the past, while simultaneously sounding ageless, if only for the uncommon arrangements.
Crabb is also quite adventurous throughout "Divinum Mysteries of the Father Love Begotten," one of the disc's more obvious points of relation to Livgren fans, if only for the lush string section wrapped around a wealth of percussion. Though some might tag that seven minute track (along with the aforementioned "Gentlemen") as slightly self-indulgent, the rhythms are so captivating and out of the ordinary that they command attention at each entrancing tempo curve. That being said, the complicated nature of Downe In Yon Forrest: Christmas In the Middle Ages isn't for everyone, especially those who like more readily accessible holiday reflections. But those willing to invest in Crabb's remarkable artistry and application of his style to the season are sure to be impressed and intrigued across the full hour of music.
For more information on Kemper Crabb, visit www.kempercrabb.net.
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