I have loved the Mediaeval Baebes since I first discovered their music, many years ago now. Some albums I am more fond of than others. I have always felt that their real strength is in minimally accompanied tunes which highlight their lovely vocal arrangements. Of Kings and Angels is a perfect album for this.
Throughout the album, the songs are often arranged in a fresh new style, giving life to otherwise overdone and boring tunes. Some of the arrangements add in minor notes as well. I love minor! Everything sounds more interesting when you make it minor! In carols, making them minor adds an almost sinister tone to the song. This is especially true for “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” It is creepy-cool for a Christmas album. I don’t know how that could ever be a bad thing.
Some traditional versions of the tunes have been refreshed, such as “Away in a Manger,” which features the variation by Spillman and Kirkpatrick. This version differs from the one most Americans are familiar with. I loved it, because until this album, I actually hadn’t realized there were different popular versions of the song! I do not know about the original version of “Once in Roayl David’s City,” but the Baebes’ version of it is beautiful, featuring a wonderful arrangement of vocals.
True to their name, the Mediaeval Baebes include songs that would not be out of place in a medieval church. “Corpus Christi Carol” has an ethereal, polyphonic chant sound, something I can easily see being performed during a Christmas mass. So, too, does “Gaudete” sound like a song that monks or nuns would sing. With its expanded vocals and multiple parts, this song would be amazing to hear in a cathedral.
Plenty of the songs in the album are lighthearted and joyful, such as “Ding Dong Merrily on High” and “In Dulci Jubilo.” The happiness of these tunes carries on into more folksy songs such as “In the Bleak Midwinter,” “We Three Kings,” “Silent Night,” and “I Saw Three Ships.” These songs, while still being Christmasty and caroly (are they words? They are now!), also have a sound that would be at home at any Renaissance Festival. The guitars and fiddles in some of them add a fun touch, and the minimal accompaniment in others serves to highlight further the talents of the women.
Overall, this is one of my favorite Christmas albums, and it is, in my opinion, one of the best albums the Mediaeval Baebes have ever done. It showcases their a capella strengths, the traditional arrangements get a makeover, and in general is just a lovely album. Get thee a copy forthwith!