It’s been 14-plus years since Fairport Convention’s chief songwriter, co-lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie, songwriter-musician and all-around renaissance man David Hughes, and Chris While and Julie Matthews (the renowned folk duo While and Matthews) joined together for a holiday side project called St. Agnes Fountain, fondly dubbed the Aggies by loyalists.
The quartet and its fans will tell you their musical magic is only fully unleashed during their as-soon-as-they-are-announced sell out concerts across England. That is further reason to celebrate the artistry of their albums. Christmas Is Not Far Away, the Aggies’ just released ninth album, is now available online and at upcoming shows.
The album features the Aggies at their best – both individually and as a group. Chris Leslie’s bewitching musicianship (don’t miss ‘Old Time Christmas on the Front Porch’), Ms. While’s and Ms. Matthews’ enchanting harmonies (‘Shadows of the Past’) and Mr. Hughes’ amusingly irreverent word play (‘Immortal Irreverent’) combine to make this a stand out offering.
At first, I was disappointed by a few songs on this album including ‘The Heart of Christmas Day’ by Ms. Matthews.
Perhaps that’s because a disproportionate number of artists who released holiday albums this season have included several songs aimed toward the despondent. Over the Rhine’s Blood Oranges in the Snow, comes immediately to mind. But Over the Rhine acknowledges their holiday music is for those who struggle with the season.
When I originally heard the song penned by Ms. Matthews, I thought it was a bit of an outlier in an otherwise joyful album. I was wrong. The more I listened, the more I found that and other atypical Aggies’ songs intriguing, especially as they are sequenced.
Christmas is Not Far Away is a charming respite from the too jolly and too sorrowful holiday music that is readily available. Like the Aggies’ tour, expect this album to become a part of your holiday tradition.
St. Agnes Fountain website: http://www.whileandmatthews.co.uk/aggie.php
The Aggie’s encore from last year’s tour: