The first thing that strikes you about Rejoiced Much, the new Christmas album from Tom Gregory with the Dust & Mischief Band, is just how tight this band is. Formed for the production of the album when Gregory decided he’d like to take some Yuletide merriment to local arts centres, the musicians – two of whom came to traditional music for the first time on this project – sound as though they’ve been doing this together for years.
Drenched in nostalgic reverb, this is an album to prompt merry memories. Indeed, Gregory hit on the idea of putting Rejoiced Much together after seeing musicians such as Green Matthews and John Kirkpatrick performing winter concerts. Delighting in the reaction the songs got from the audience around him, and responding to the joy that singing in unison clearly gave people, he began exploring how he could bring his own take to the Christmas tradition.
Returning from a winter songs workshop with the vocal group, Ramskyte, he began filling his phone with song notes, eventually hitting on a list of Christmas carols, wassails and winter songs – some well known, others known better by the traditional folk community – that he could work up with other musicians. Purposefully selecting a pair of guitarists with no folk background, he assembled a band to work the songs up with, eventually recording the songs live in the studio.
Both of these factors bring an infectious enthusiasm to Rejoiced Much. Their live take on ‘Here We Come a Wassailing’ has the bounce of an early 70s folk-rock band, coupled with a more contemporary guitar sound that occasionally pushes prog buttons. On occasion, things are flipped on their head – ‘The Gloucestershire Wassail’, usually sung with a driving sense of purpose, is presented here in a wandering, almost dreamlike setting that focuses the listener on Gregory’s vocal. ‘Down in Yon Forest’ follows a similar route, with drones, reverb-drenched slide guitars and a steel drum providing an atmosphere not commonly associated with these songs.
Throughout, Gregory’s deep vocals bring a Ghost of Christmas Past mischief to the proceedings. He acts as a merry ringmaster – the squire to this merry side – and you imagine that he’d make quite an entertaining frontman onstage. While Rejoiced Much probably won’t claim the top spot on the Christmas charts this year, it’s a beguiling album with some sparkling, imaginative arrangements.