Exquisite arrangements and intriguing perspectives on Christ’s birth

Immanuel: The Folk Sessions EP
Melanie Penn (www.melaniepenn.com)
Label: Equally Well Music, LLC
Time: 6 tracks/23:31 minutes

A favorite moment on Immanuel: The Folk Sessions by Melanie Penn comes with just over a minute left on the opening “All Things Are Possible (Gabriel).” It’s a brief interlude where guitar and mandolin trade solos. It’s one of several places on this release where acoustic instruments, including fiddle and piano, provide lovely moments.

These sharp, compressed music interludes are not only indicative of the tight strumming and picking, but enhance the solid songwriting and the pristine vocals. There is no denying that Penn has a soothing voice. Nowhere is this more evident than on the one traditional song, “The First Noel.”

I can imagine snow falling with the gentle playing. The vocals are clear, the pace relaxed, conveying a sense of peace.

Including one carol follows the pattern on the original Immanuel (2017), which I have not had the pleasure of hearing. All of the other tracks on that release, as is the case here, were written from the perspective of the different characters in the story of Christ’s birth.

This contains two new songs, counting the carol. The other new track is written from Simeon’s perspective, “I’ve Seen The Glory.” It comes at the end, and may be the best song on this EP. Drums are a little more prominent, driving a steady rhythm. The melody is strong and the chorus simple but memorable. The rest of the songs found here are a selection from that earlier release made in more of a folk style.

A playful moment comes with the first lines of “Gift Of Love (Angel Chorus),” which coupled with the upbeat music makes it delightfully whimsical:

From on high, gonna break in to tell you
Look up, we got a band in the sky
We’re the angel chorus, with an aching to tell you
The savior of all has arrived

With the quirky rhythm and that “band in the sky” line it comes off as somewhat amusing. The songwriting makes the nativity story consistently appealing and intriguing throughout this release.

I like the use of pedal steel and the stripped-down bridge leading to the chorus on “Great Things (Mary).” This is another song that has a little more percussive punch.

“What Child Is This” is not the popular carol but it does borrow from it placing the question in Joseph’s mind, which seems appropriate. He must have wondered what it all meant.

What other character or perspective would you like to see represented in the future? Penn recently asked for this input on social media. If you have any thoughts after listening to one or both releases you may want to send her a message.

Judging from this EP, Immanuel (2017) will be worth getting along side of it. I do remember it being critically acclaimed at the time. I’m sorry that I did not get to hear her until now. This is someone to watch for future offerings.

If you read this in early December 2019, Penn is currently touring in support of her Christmas songs. Go to her website and see if she is coming to a location near you. I don’t think you will regret hearing her perform if you get the chance.

Michael Dalton