Reviews: The Little Holly Tree 2014

Some musical genres manage to pull off Christmas far better than others. Folk followers are blessed in this respect. And this time each year they can expect to hear a slew of traditionally-flavoured carols, wassails and other winter-inspired folk-song. This beautiful little EP from the fast-rising star of contemporary folk, Ange Hardy, is certainly one worth taking note of.

" the fast-rising star of contemporary folk, Ange Hardy, is certainly one worth taking note of."

The title track is not a little-known traditional carol, but rather a song written by Hardy relatively recently when she saw a lone holly tree in the tiny village of Chumleigh in Somerset. The view before her inspired her to write a song imagining the plight of a lost robin seeking shelter from the harsh winter weather on Christmas Eve. The Little Holly Tree with “the greenest of leaves and the reddest of berries” is the result.

It’s a simple song, beautifully sung, and performed unaccompanied. The atmospheric production shows off both her crisp, clear voice and the gentle, evocative lyrics perfectly. Even if it’s not snowing outside as this is playing, one can’t help but imagine it is.

"The atmospheric production shows off both her crisp, clear voice and the gentle, evocative lyrics perfectly."

Joining her on the second track, which is taken from her highly acclaimed 2014 album The Lament of The Black Sheep, is the distinctive voice of fellow Somerset singer, James Findlay.

The Wanting Wife sounds like it should have been collected from one of the villages of that county by Cecil Sharp over a hundred years ago but it has actually been written by Hardy in traditional style. Their shared vocals complement one another admirably. For those who have not experienced this track before it’s probably going to make them want to purchase the album. The final track is a short excerpt from The Wexford Carol and, like the others, is sung unaccompanied.

2014 has been quite a year for Ange Hardy with her reputation as both a songwriter and singer growing and growing. This EP seems an appropriate way to end such a year and emerges with impeccable timing as the ideal Christmas gift from Hardy to her growing band of followers.

Amazon Reviews

"Surely THE Christmas track of 2014 - original and yet timeless, simply lovely"

"A lovely winter story - as we've come to expect, beautifully written and performed. A real Christmas treat! Highly recommended, as are all of her albums by the way."

"When is a Christmas song not a Christmas song. Well, take a listen to this little number. Capturing many of the essences of a traditional English Christmas, but with an ever so slightly haunting lilt, Ange Hardy has produced a great little tack here. One that could well fit into any Christmas compilation. Except we would hate that. Wouldn't we. Meaningful lyrics with an ear worm of a tune that i guarantee you will hum, this is folk at its best. Invest your download allowance now."

"I'm sure most people will agree that it's the little things that make Christmas really special. The little holly tree is one of those really special little things that will make any Christmas just that little bit better. I highly recommended the CD but the MP3 download is well worth the pennies. Go on, do it, you won't regret it, trust me, I know."

"There's not a lot that I can usefully added to the existing reviews. Not only is this is a refreshing change to the all-too-predictable Christmas musical fare, there is also that inimitable Hardy-esqueness that is at once instantly recognisable and somehow makes you feel that this a song you've known and hummed along to for years. In short it is typically and delightfully Ange Hardy. Oh, and if you buy the cd the final track is wonderfully atmospheric. Lovely stuff."

"Ange Hardy is talented and inspiring. She has a wonderful gift of timeless songwriting which is a delight to listen to. Her latest Christmas song The Little Holly Tree is simply beautiful. I would recommend all of her 3 albums and look forward to much more in the future. A lady with a clear and lovely voice."

"This is such a beautiful Christmas song. Ange Hardy has a great voice and great future ahead of her. Totally recommend this and also her albums 'Barefoot Folk' and 'Lament of the Black Sheep'"

"I love this new song from Ange, I love the way it falls on the ears like a traditional festive favourite.

It is wonderfully sung from the heart, she never disappoints.merry xmas Ange ....:-)"

"Lovely song"

"To most people, Christmas music is the same few songs played over and over again. We hear them in shops from around September, and they grate on the nerves until, inexplicably, we start to play them ourselves to generate some Christmas spirit. Christmas music is Noddy Holder bellowing into the mic. It is Shane McGowan being called a maggot. It is that boy band from Walthamstow wearing winter jackets in fake snow while singing what is categorically not a Christmas song.
     In essence, most Christmas music perfectly encapsulates the modern Christmas (even if most of the songs come from the 70’s) – a capitalist wet dream of consumerism over traditional values. We’ve had some more modern stabs, the much derided Coldplay springs to mind. Otherwise most takes on a Christmas song have come from awful cover versions sung by that one off of X Factor. Mercifully these are instantly forgettable.
     All of which may explain why my cynicism rises to the fore whenever I see a new Christmas song being plugged. My initial reaction is to expect a lazy attempt at raking in some Christmas cash, and hoping that it will be played year after year thereafter. Not that I can blame anyone for wanting to do so.
     One listen of The Little Holly Tree was all it took for my cynicism to crumble away. This is a perfect example of what a Christmas song should be. It has that touch of magic about it, with just a little hint of darkness at the edges. It is a little haunting, yet ultimately lifting. Nothing has managed to dislodge the tune from my head, not that I am complaining. There is something deeply nostalgic about the song, as if it is the musical equivalent of me watching the Box of Delights at Christmas. It is that same sense of deep tradition, magic and danger.
     Yes, it is (whisper it) folk. The word may put people off, which would be a huge shame. I’ve never been a big fan myself, but slowly I’m seeing the light. I’ve binged on all three of Ange’s albums over the last few months, and loved them. I hope this proves to be a gateway song for people to discover those albums, if they have yet to come across them. Even if that does not happen, I cannot imagine a better song to play on Christmas morning."

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