Classically trained violinist and songwriter Gaelynn Lea has been bewitching scores of fans with her experimental and ambient takes on fiddle music, an approach that incorporates her love of traditional tunes, songwriting, poetry and sonic exploration. Her work most recently won NPR Music’s 2016 Tiny Desk Contest, a competition drawing submissions of original songs from more than 6,000 musicians across the country. Gaelynn Lea has been playing violin for over twenty years, developing an improvisational style all her own. She has performed alongside many notable Minnesota musicians over the years, including Alan Sparhawk, Charlie Parr, and Billy McLaughlin.
This Fall Gaelynn was busy working on a holiday-themed solo album, Deepest Darkness, Brightest Dawn. It arrives in time for the holiday season and offers her beautiful and otherworldly takes on a collection of Christmas-themed songs. Lea’s violin playing is the centerpiece of the mostly instrumental set, which also includes her vocals on three tracks.
“Christmas has always been my favorite time of year–something about the snow and the shorter days; the twinkling lights and the music and the time spent with family—they all have a certain coziness and magic to them that just aren’t there the rest of the year,” Lea explains. “So as soon as I recorded my first full-length album in November 2015, I knew I’d want to tackle a Christmas album shortly afterwards.”
The album, recorded at Sacred Heart Music Center in Lea’s hometown of Duluth, MN, comprises all the holiday’s songs that she personally has enjoyed over the years. “I really love the old, traditional carols that have been around forever,” she notes. “Some of them will be very recognizable to people and a few are a bit more obscure. I wanted to make these old melodies come alive again by creating a listening adventure for people of all ages.”
Much as she did with the selections on her first solo album, which paid homage to traditional Celtic fiddle tunes, Lea utilized a unique approach to stamp the carols with her musical signature—a winding and haunting sonic underlay achieved with a looping pedal. “I used the pedal to craft layered, meandering tracks; and I often combine different tunes in unexpected ways,” she explains. “I also tried include a wide range of moods on this album.”
Gaelynn reunited with sound engineer Jake Larson, who worked with her on her first solo album, to record her new set, but chose to handle production duties herself—“I had a very clear vision of what I wanted it to sound like in the end.” Fellow Minnesota musician Al Church added guitar, Rhodes, and percussion on half of the tracks.
“It is my hope that people will see the finished product as a sonic journey through the Christmas season — the darkness of winter contrasted with the bright light of hope,” says Lea. “I would love this album to become a new holiday tradition for families everywhere.”
from Deepest Darkness, Brightest Dawn
released November 11, 2016
Violin: Gaelynn Lea
Guitar, Rhodes, Percussion: Al Church
Recorded and Mixed by Jake Larson at Sacred Heart Recording Studio in Duluth, MN
Mastered by Robert Hadley at The Mastering Lab in Los Angeles, CA
Cover Art by Shawn Stigsell at Stigsell Creative in Duluth, MN
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