A reader asked me what my favorite Christmas album was – and the question caught me a little off guard since I have plenty of Christmas favorites… But if I were to choose one, just one release, it must be Jillian Aversa’s Christmas EP from 2008, called Through Sand and Snow. It is like a musical journey with traditional songs as the guiding star. Its humble atmosphere is a delightful contrast to most Christmas releases.
The holiday EP opens with the 1-minute long Prelude. The ‘walking through snow’ sound, the eerie synth and Jillian’s ethereal voice is a nice build-up to the second track: John Jacob Niles’ classic I Wonder as I Wander. Most versions of this song tend to be too sacral or too serious if you will. But the light and rolling drumbeat, which I guess is only a mixed sidestick sample, is marvelous. Jillian’s positive voice gives a new perspective to the usual melancholy of this popular Christmas carol.
The next track is What Child Is This, or Greensleeves. The arrangement is gentle and tasteful. Jillian’s breathing marks the rhythm, which is a nice effect. Both this track and the next, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, are traditional and could easily be included in any collection of Christmas music. It is a high-quality production with a general appeal: you don’t have to like new age music to enjoy these tracks.
With Walking in the Air the EP takes a small break from religion. I am used to hearing the song sung by a young boy in the animated film The Snowman, but Jillian does a great job. The bell synth gives the song a magical atmosphere, and the different layers of vocal intertwine beautifully.
Silent Night is a perfect album closer. Jillian’s version is long, dreamy and simply irresistible. It starts with a warm-sounding synth pad and a distant piano in the background. The different layers of sound create a total listening experience, almost like listening to heavenly hosts sing Alleluia! The EP ends with 30 seconds of cozy log fire sounds.
The cover artwork is by Daniel Kvasznicza. It captures the atmosphere of the songs. Here you can see Jillian walking through a desert landscape of either sand or snow, it is hard to tell. But it sure is beautiful. A piece of art.
Through Sand and Snow is a quite different Christmas album. It is just such an album you want to put on when you have looked through your 100+ Christmas albums and found nothing to listen to. It is heartfelt and beautiful, without any of the usual Christmas glitters. And that is for me that is a big thing.