For her 7th studio album, In Winter, Katie Melua recruited the Gori Women’s Choir – from her native Georgia, a country she left at the age of 8 after the country’s civil war – to back her, and she enlisted the help of choral composer, Bob Chilcott, for the vocal arrangements. Unsurprisingly, In Winter offers a distinctly different sound to Melua’s previous offerings; sure, there is plenty of her acoustic guitar and crystalline voice on display, but the adding of a 24-member choir to the mix required altogether more spacious compositions than those of her earlier works.
Sung in Ukrainian, opening track The Little Swallow perfectly sets In Winter’s mood, with the lush vocal harmonies evoking the sense of stillness that accompanies a snowed-in day. At one minute forty-five, it is a wonderfully succinct introduction to the album. Perfect World stands out with its gentle build, swelling from just the pairing of Melua’s clear voice with a rhythmic guitar riff, demonstrating excellent restraint, with other instrumentation and the choir entering and exiting the mix as required. The percussion on the track’s bridge makes for a nice augmentation as well. Another brief, chorally driven song, Cradle Song, makes it clear why Melua chose to work with the Gori Women’s Choir.
Despite its good groove, A Time To Buy ultimately feels a little weak and at odds with the mood of the album at large; a contemplation of consumerist culture doesn’t quite mess with the album’s winter theme – excepting the connotations of the Christmas rush for those in the Northern Hemisphere. It is difficult to know whether If You Are So Beautiful is as captivating to those who speak Georgian but, to a monolingual English ear, it is definitely bears repeat listenings. Lead single, Dreams On Fire, and penultimate track, All-Night Vigil – Nunc Dimittis, counterpoint Melua’s sharp, clear, vocals with the wonderful texture generated by the choir.
With In Winter, Melua certainly achieved her goal of creating an album that evokes in the listener, images of the depths of winter. Existing fans of Melua’s may initially be disconcerted by her musical direction here, but In Winter is certainly a well-executed and soothing work of folk-pop – just maybe not quite in the expected ways.