CD Review – ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ by Mediæval Bæbes


Genre: Medieval Christmassy stuff

Review: 

Formed by Katharine Blake of band Miranda Sex Garden, the Mediæval Bæbes consists of a varying line up of female musicians performing medieval inspired music. I’ve listened to the Mediaeval Baebes casually for some time now on last.fm or youtube (etc) but only bought their album Mistletoe and Wine a few weeks back, needing to find a piece to work on for my singing lesson.
Mistletoe and Wine, as you might have guessed from the title, is an album of Christmas/advent/etc songs, most of which featured on earlier albums (according to Wikipedia two songs are new, two are rerecorded. I’m not going to check). As a rule, I hate it when a CD contains a mix of songs off other albums, plus one or two new ones, because it always seems like a cruel ploy to get people to buy songs twice. ‘Gold editions’ of albums, containing bonus tracks, released a couple of months after the original album just when all the fans have bought the first album drive me bonkers too. Anyway, I digress. The point is, this is the first CD by the Bæbes that I have bought and therefore I’m not too worried about the repetition.
Now’s the point when I talk about album art or something like that. Well, I downloaded this one so haven’t really got anything to say. It looks like an okay design, as far as one can tell on iTunes album art. I don’t really understand the seemingly random naked people but it is a deep shade of red which works for Christmas, and for me. It’s not fair to comment when you can’t see something physically but there’s nothing that jumps out as impressive in the album cover; it’s just okay.
Sadly, that seems to be my general opinion on the important bit, the music. There’s nothing awful but there’s very little that stands out as great either. There are some beautiful arrangements, some great vocals, but overall the album left me rather nonplused. Yes, I do feel guilty posting a review about something that I don’t really like, hence the generally positive reviews, but here goes.
The tune I ultimately ended up working on in my own singing lessons is ‘Gaudete’. I love this piece, even if, having sung it heaven only knows how many times over the past month, I am sick of it! The vocals in the stanzas sound pure, clear and really pretty. The burden is pretty too but it just doesn’t sound quite right. The singers sound a bit bored, maybe that they’re trying too hard to sound like an angelic choir… they sound a bit bored. They’re singing “Gaudete”, or “rejoice”, but sound like they couldn’t care less.
And there we have the problem with this recording, in my opinion. It’s pretty but that’s all I can say about it as a whole. It’s got some lovely moments, some lovely musical aspects, yet it feels soulless.
My favourite piece on the CD is Kinderly which, despite having some of the most depressing lyrics going (thanks medieval hymns!) is a bouncy piece, sung in a round with a fair amount of percussion. It’s bouncy, quick, and complex sounding enough for it to have some character. Similarly, I enjoy Ecce Mundi Gaudium which also seems to have a bit of charisma.
Out of the slower pieces, it is The Coventry Carol that really stands out. This piece is exceptionally simple in presentation and that really works for it. Although there’s no obvious emotion in the rendition, the purity and simplicity of the harmonies makes it an evocative lament.
Overall, I find this CD really difficult. It’s beautiful but lacking, really lacking something, in my opinion. I’ve had the disk playing in the background a bit, and it’s been on in the car when driving as background noise while my mother and I chat. Although the music is, often, lovely, there’s nothing that I have been able to connect with and therefore there is little power in the CD and little to have a strong feeling about. I want to like it more than I do. I feel it could have been great. Sadly, there are a lot of people who do this genre and so much better.

If the idea of medieval-style Christmas music catches your fancy then you can preview the tracks and buy them if you like from here.
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