Audio Mixers: Adam "Cecil" Bartlett; Katie Melua.
Recording information: HOXA HQ (05/2016); Kew Music Studio (05/2016); The Culture Centre, Gori (05/2016); HOXA HQ (10/2015); Kew Music Studio (10/2015); The Culture Centre, Gori (10/2015).
Illustrator: Niroot Puttapipat.
Arranger: Bob Chilcott.
A gorgeously rendered holiday-themed effort, In Winter finds singer/songwriter Katie Melua backed by the 25-member Gori Women's Choir. The album is Melua's seventh studio production and first since parting ways with longtime collaborator Mike Batt. Recorded in her native country of Georgia (Melua left with her parents at age nine), In Winter is a lushly produced, thoughtfully conceived album featuring arrangements by esteemed choral composer Bob Chilcott. An acclaimed institution, the Gori Women's Choir are famous for their haunting classical harmonies. They prove a superb match for Melua, who both sings along with the choir and frames herself against its angelic, delicately layered harmonies. Although the album is technically a holiday-themed work, it's not a cheery collection of yuletide favorites. Instead, Melua delivers a handful of ruminative and lyrical originals, many inspired by her memories of growing up in what was then the Soviet Union, as well as the complex and often heartbreaking history of Georgia's civil war. She also weaves in several well-curated covers, including poignant renditions of Joni Mitchell's "River," Sergey Rachmaninov's "All-Night Vigil-Nunc Dimittis," and the hymn "O Holy Night." Melua even finds room to sing in Ukrainian, opening the album with a magical rendition of the traditional song "The Little Swallow," whose melody is better recognized to Western audiences as "The Carol of the Bells." These are warmly arranged, beautifully executed recordings that capture the stark, introspective beauty of a rural Eastern Europe in winter. ~ Matt Collar