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The cover image of Lisa Knapp's Cherry Tree Carol

Lisa Knapp, Cherry Tree Carol

Lisa Knapp releases a wonderfully eerie version of 'Cherry Tree Carol' [Roud 453], and we long for an album to follow suit.

We can’t be the only ones who wish Lisa Knapp and Gerry Diver would turn their attentions to a Yuletide album. In 2017, their collection of traditional May songs was so complete and enriching that the singer has become all but synonymous with the music of the maypole. Surely there’s an album celebrating the Winter Solstice to be found somewhere in their creative partnership? Surely Lisa Knapp is not just for May Day, but for Christmas, too?

We can but hope. And in the meantime, this recording of ‘Cherry Tree Carol’ [Roud 453], released at midnight on December 8th, is a gorgeous way to fill the gap. Production-wise, it shares a lot with Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May, replete with whispering found-sound that chills your inner ear, archaic drones, distant waif harmonies, vibrant fiddle and Pete Flood painting a biblical backdrop with cinematic percussion. In such a manner, it takes a fairly obscure carol, learned from the singing of Shirley Collins, and delicately sprinkles it across a darkening winter sky, flickering and emerging like the Northern Lights in musical form.

And then there’s that voice, of course. Few singers on the current folk scene can do quite what Lisa Knapp does. With extraordinary range and exquisite control, she can stop any listener in their tracks, demanding attention whatever the situation. Gerry Diver’s production is always the perfect foil, managing to marry the ancient with something that sounds entirely contemporary in a unique and beguiling way, creating a soundscape that always fascinates while ensuring Lisa’s voice has the space it needs. You know exactly who you’re hearing immediately. To take traditional music and make it so completely their own… that’s a special talent, indeed.

On her Bandcamp page, the singer explains that her love for the song is both for its earthy humanity, and for its, “celestial, magical, supernatural, cosmic” nature. It’s no coincidence that those four adjectives aren’t easily bettered when describing the sound they have achieved here.

Oh, and a word of warning: It’s ever-so-slightly creepy, too, just as these Yule-ish things ought to be. You may see elves. They may not be friendly. Best get in by the fire where you’re safe and warm.

Buy ‘Cherry Tree Carol’ by Lisa Knapp from her bandcamp page.