Monday, November 7, 2016

Album Review: Russ Hitt "The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing"

In the notes accompanying his album "The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing", Russ Hitt shares:

"This album was born from music I have played at a reflective, contemplative service held for people who find the holidays a struggle or want to acknowledge the same on behalf of others in the world. The struggle can be different—loneliness, grief, exhaustion from doing too much and so on, but for those of us who find ourselves in that place the holidays can seem like a long, dark night."

I believe that many, if not all, of us have at least once found ourselves at emotional valleys during the holiday season, and the reasons are many.  As Russ noted, we can be lonely, stretched too thin, we can be experiencing loss during this time.  Christmastime, while a time of joy, pleasure, spirituality, and excitement, shares the emotional spectrum with the darker side of the season.

Russ Hitt has captured these emotions in his album "The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing", with eight songs that beautifully pair the reflections of our darker emotions with a sense of hope and tranquility.

The album contains three original compositions - "The Longest Night", "Reminiscing Christmas", and "Some of Us", and five arrangements of traditional songs.  Russ is the sole performer on the album, playing acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, hand drums, piano, organ, and many various percussion instruments, as well as vocals on "Some of Us".  Russ also produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the album.

The result is remarkable.  "Coventry Carol" was the first song to load into my music player, and within the first minute I was captivated.  Throughout the album, Russ' arrangements are mesmerizing, and he demonstrates the multi-instrumental performing talent to realize his musical vision.  "We Three Kings", the album opening track, is an atmospheric exploration of the theme of the traditional melody.  "The Longest Night", is a soft largo composition performed on piano, thematically paired with verse from the books of Psalms and Matthew, a song lyric, and a verse from Hafiz:

"I wish I could show you
when you are lonely or
in darkness the
astonishing light
of your own being."

The inclusion of written scripture, verse, lyrics, and words of wisdom complete the artistry of the music.  The selection of the included passages are an indispensable part of this work of art.  The written words and the music taken together will have a myriad of meaning to listeners.

 Through "What Child Is This", "Silent Night", "O Come O Come Emmanuel", and closing with Russ' compositions "Reminiscing Christmas" and "Some of Us" (featuring Russ only vocal performance on the album, the music envelopes and embraces the listener.  This album is not one of joy, revelry, and feasting on turkey.  Nor is it one of deep sadness and despair.  It is the music of reflection and hope during the Christmas season, when the longest night comes.  Indeed, Russ ends the notes with Lamentations 3:29 "Wait for hope to appear".

This album is a very unique addition to my personal collection.  It is an intensely personal and visionary artistic statement of an aspect of Christmas that can easily remain in the shadows or be passed by, much like the peddler in "Pretty Paper".  I commend Russ Hitt for his impassioned delivery of his message,

Russ Hitt website

"The Longest Night: Christmas Songs of Lament & Longing" on Amazon

Russ Hitt on Bandcamp

Russ Hitt provided a digital copy of the album to Merry and Bright for review consideration.

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