Reviewed by Johan Palme on 6th December, 2016
Folk revivals have happened with some regularity during the 20th century. It is a style which tends to come back into fashion a lot. But let’s face it, 1984 was not exactly folk music’s bumper year. Except for some truly avant garde neofolk and anti-folk weirdos, taking their first faltering steps, and some left behind 1970s sleepers, it may well be the genre’s popular nadir.
So how come one of the best folk music Christmas albums was recorded that year? Reilly and Maloney were certainly in the latter of the two categories. Nothing on this album could not have been recorded a decade and a half earlier. Or indeed today, thirty years on – had Reilly and Maloney not retired almost precisely a month ago.
But there’s good reason this album has seen several reissues. For one, and a reason that’s not to be pooh-poohed at, it’s musically very accomplished – two strong voices, two skilled guitarists, two good songwriters. (That’s still just two people, if you’re keeping count.) Ginny Reilly has a sweet, almost twee, Blossom Dearie-style soprano with an underlying streetwise rasp, a voice that gels perfectly in pointed harmonies with David Maloney’s understated tenor, or stars on its own. All three originals here are well-crafted, with both earnest warmth and hints of light-hearted, whimsical sarcasm. And the covers, whether they are of medieval carols, Tin Pan Alley schmaltz or recent folk pop hits, are heartfelt, innovative and fit into a friendly whole.
Perhaps it’s that very fact, that all sources are treated with equal respect, that makes this so appealing. Christmas – and folk music – aspires to a timelessness that, with the changing tides of style and trend, rarely works out in practice. Perhaps it takes a wilfully unfashionable record like this to actually accomplish something vaguely approaching that eternal.
The Spotify link below goes to a pre-prepared playlist of the original album. For Amazon and Apple Music, please use the 2012 reissue linked and play the songs in the order 12, 3, 14, 13, 4, 1, 11, 10, 5, 7, excluding the rest. (Note that the official homepage is wrong about when the tracks were released.)