In 2015 Apollo’s Fire released “Sugarloaf Mountain: An Appalachian Gathering.” This Classical Crossover chart-topper celebrated the connection between Scotch-Irish mountain music and early Celtic and British music. “Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain” revisits the premise with a fresh batch of tunes.
Rest assured these are no delicate forays into folk music by classical practitioners. Director Jeannette Sorrell grew up in Appalachia, and she knows how this music should sound. Apollo’s Fire performed with a rough-hewn enthusiasm that’s infectious (especially on the tracks where you can hear them flat footing).
At the same time, there’s a coherent, well-documented program behind it all. The album starts with traditional music of Ireland, and gradually progresses through immigrant songs to Appalachian mainstays.
And understand, this is not bluegrass music. Mountain music sticks to the traditional instruments of Ireland, as does Apollo’s Fire. You won’t hear banjos and guitars. But you will hear fiddles, wooden flutes, hammered dulcimers, and Scottish small pipes.
The ballads, such as “Joseph and Mary” and “Christ Child’s Lullaby” are beautifully arranged. Soprano Amanda Powell finely balances between traditional Irish balladry and the nasal, high lonesome sound of Appalachian singing.
This one’s going on my short list of favorite holiday albums.
Christmas on Sugarloaf Mountain
An Irish-Appalachian Celebration
Jennette Sorrell, director
AVIE Av 2396