Emerging at the advent of the last decade ― and under the tutelage of music producer Mike Batt ― Katie Melua has drawn praise and derision for her jazz-pop combinations.
Those on the latter end of the critical spectrum unfortunately have missed the point of Melua’s sonic brand. It is meant to be unapologetically expressive and lush, hallmarks of accomplished adult pop ― a craft becoming increasingly rare in the landscape of modern music.
However, Melua would challenge herself on her fourth studio effort, The House (Dramatico, 2010). The (politely) experimental recording, co-conceived with veteran producer William Orbit, let Melua open her sound. That artistic victory is key to the innovative fire present on her seventh long player, In Winter (BMG, 2016).
In Winter was recorded in the singer’s native country of Georgia and borrows its engrossing, melancholic mood from her decision to record there. Melua and Adam “Cecil” Bartlett co-produced the LP, bringing “twelve boxes of [recording] equipment” along to craft the album in a local community center where they set up the makeshift studio. Melua and Bartlett also netted involvement from the Gori Women’s Choir; their involvement adds further ethereal wintertime depth across the expanse of the project.
While an underpinning of classical music has always been accounted for in Melua’s music, here she sets that element of her creative muse free to wander across 11 cuts that traverse original material, a stunning Joni Mitchell cover (“River”), and traditional compositions (Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil”).
Toss in light folk influences and a touch of Melua’s adult contemporary pop and In Winter immediately transports the listener into Melua’s aural realm. “The Little Swallow,” known in its English incarnation as “Carols of the Bells,” returns to its Ukrainian roots to mesmerize as the opening number on the album. Looping back around to her take of Joni Mitchell’s “River,” from the legendary 1971 Blue LP, Melua’s cover is striking in its restraint. Her lyrical sense of humor, often overlooked, comes through on “A Time to Buy”; a spot-on commentary of Christmas consumerism could not be more perfectly timed.
Elsewhere, the set’s lead-off single “Dreams of Fire” is an instant Melua sensation, joining her established stable of hits like “Closest Thing to Crazy,” “The Flood” and more.
One could view In Winter as a stylish stopgap between Melua’s last recording Ketevan (Dramatico, 2013) and her next album. However, one should embrace it as an inspired seasonal concept album that ties The House as her most ambitious undertaking yet.
Purchase In Winter here.