Now here is an extremely cool holiday album. Kirby Heyborne's Merry White Tree in the Night begins with an outrageously fine album title. The name, as it turns out, comes from artwork by Diane Packer (www.dianepacker.com), and the cover's front and back reflect Packer's excellent artistry. The "Merry White Tree in the Night" print can be purchased on Packer's site.
Once you get past the great graphics, the music is amazing, too. Kirby Heyborne is a singer/songwriter with folk/pop sensibilities. This album is not long (just 33 minutes), but it is packed with creative fluorishes that kept me hanging on every note. The liner notes are a bit obscure, so it's difficult sorting out exactly what's happening from track to track, but it appears that Heyborne is personally responsible for most of the eight tracks here, and he is a big-time creative talent. The opening cut Wassail and Apple Pie is a sensational, heartfelt homage to the artist's mother, who after all "is Christmas." This addictive ditty will have you recalling every happy holiday moment from your childhood, and it sets up grand anticipation for the remaining tracks. It also incorporates Deck the Halls snippets for just the right touch.
Do not purchase this offering in hopes of hearing age-old chestnuts. Nope, this is a contemporary presentation of nontraditional fare, and if you enjoy well-crafted pop vocals (often delivered with whispery urgency) and great guitar riffs, this might be just the change-of-pace that you need. I particular liked Still, Still, Still, which delivers Heyborne's passion for winter nights (he uses wine glasses, an old piano, and a cello to recreate the sounds of a winter forest at night). Heyborne presents the lines as the sweetest lullaby, oh-so-softly delivered.
Ater reviewing scores of relatively routine holiday albums, it's a real pleasure to spin something so totally unique. Thank you, Kirby Heyborne, for a fine holiday album that will cheer those seeking creative folk/pop vocals for the holidays!
--Carol Swanson (Reviewed in 2006)