Warmer in the Winter a Pleasant Listen Indeed
by Kristin Battestella
Violinist Lindsey Stirling's 2017 holiday release Warmer in the Winter uses surprisingly modern arrangements to bring a fireside medieval wink, opening the whimsy with the sharp youthful notes of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. There are some sophisticated, intense moments amid the edgy ad libs, but this remains a recognizable welcome and festive rendition before You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch featuring Sabrina Carpenter. This is cute – it doesn't seem like an adult song and that fits the swanky, toe tapping millennial pop. The instrumental orchestration works almost in duet with the modern vocals, creating groovy rock that matures the cartoon lyrics. Likewise Stirling's original Christmas C'mon with Becky G is pleasant and catchy, if a little too contemporary holiday pop generic. This bubble gum style is not my favorite, and this sounds like something you can hear any time of year despite the seasonal phrases. I dare say there was no need for any guest vocalists on Warmer in the Winter. Shaking up the instrumentals with voice distracts from the swift violin and spirited concert magic. I also wish the ominous medieval seriousness of Carol of the Bells was longer. The rousing titular chimes invoke a magical sprinkle as the impressive strings build the familiar crescendos.
The violin also takes on the voice of Angels We Have Heard on High, and the longest track on Warmer in the Winter hooks the listener with its backing choirs as the heavenly melody hits home the glory. Sometimes the ad libs away from the traditional notes stray into something unrecognizable – you momentarily stop and check the track title to confirm this is still the same song. Thankfully, the aura is so pleasant regardless, and the big notes come around beautifully. Although it is the shortest track, I Saw Three Ships is a lively, festive little jig enticing us to clap along, tap our toes, and break into some Lord of the Dance if we knew how. This rendition also segues into some medieval badassery with a Game of Thrones meets “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” interlude. However, the medley's so fun its okay. A tune can be reverent and still have a little fresh winter intensity. It's a pity though that the tracks aren't titled to reflect when there are a few carols intermixed in one tune. Let It Snow continues the idyllic charm with the strings again mirroring the breezy lyrics so listeners can sway or hum along. The traditional Old World meets modern unusual ritzes up the orchestration with Big Band styling – showing Stirling's talented range and instrumentation. A whiff of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” peppers the track before a “New York, New York” topper in the big finish. The titular Warmer in the Winter with Trombone Shorty is another original with all the merry talk of cookies, pajamas, and snuggling up. The brass is catchy and the tags will get stuck in your head. There's nothing wrong with these vocal tracks – all of them are worthy of plenty holiday air play. Unfortunately, they aren't the standout tracks of the album, probably because they try so hard to be, and the violin concertos are just better at the seasonal spirit than the pop.
The still resonance of What Child is This is simply lovely, with each lingering note invoking its medieval origins. Without lyrics, this can be “Greensleeves” or the Creche, and the sweeping concert movement tugs our heartstrings either way. This may be the best of Warmer in the Winter, as it encapsulates the Old World cum new musical technology without being bombastic or over the top. The instrumental simplicity lets the meaning of the music speak for itself and that's an amen. Maybe it's surprising to hear the more recent All I Want for Christmas as an instrumental – because let's be honest, the Mariah original is a pretty unbeatable gem. We know the refrains, and the violin again becomes the voice to which we can sing along as we dance about the tree. This lively again succeeds better than the Stirling and Co. Time to Fall in Love featuring Alex Gaskarth. The millennial delivery immediately dates the song to a generic holiday hip interchangeable with the other originals despite the different guest stars. The unique violin rhythms would have better served more of the edgy instrumental carols, and Warmer in the Winter proves you can have serious musical reverence and kick it up a notch. The breezy nostalgia of Jingle Bell Rock updates the mid century jive for listeners young and old, doing the hip timeless right with a touch of “The Man with the Bag” before going full swing with a whiff of “Sing Sing Sing” to the Bell Rock.
Silent Night is a worthy finale closing Warmer in the Winter with backing arias and quiet but no less stirring violin strength building the candlelit emotion of the season. Of course, as albums often do these days, different exclusives are available on the Target deluxe edition including We Three Gentlemen – a refreshed “We Three Kings” with a hint of “Carol of the Bells” mixing the gothic mood with more ethnic beats for impressive ancient meets millennial medley. Likewise O Come Emmanuel harkens the season with backing octaves and mellow strings holding the big notes. It's an interesting add on to finish Warmer in the Winter with this traditional Advent invitation, but this bonus finale is also fitting. The jolly is over and now the rousing reverence has begun. Despite some soundalike holiday pop, this fifty minutes flies by with a well paced mix of something festive for everyone. The chart topping seasonal pleasantries, merry holiday tunes, and spirited carol strings make Warmer in the Winter the perfect soundtrack for one and all to wrap, bake, and trim the tree.