October 3, 2022 Lindsey Stirling – Snow Waltz (Album Review)
One-woman tour de force Lindsey Stirling placed her indomitable stamp on Christmas back in 2017, delivering her first-ever holiday collection in what feels like another lifetime. Here we are, half a decade later, and she’s back to sleigh ride yet again with Snow Waltz, which is scheduled to arrive digitally on Friday, October 7, 2022, thanks to Concord Records. (A vinyl release is slated to follow on November 18th.)
A highly-acclaimed electronic violinist, Stirling has done more for the popularity of her stringed instrument than Beethoven did nearly 200 years ago. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but she is kind of a big deal. Hailing from Arizona, the phenom, a multi-talented musician, dancer, composer, New York Times best-selling author, and more, has become one of the 21st century’s most innovative stars. From Billboard chart-topping albums and awards to millions of fans worldwide, she holds the distinction of creating the only instrumental song to ever reach the Top 10 on Adult Contemporary Radio. Add to this sold-out tours across the globe and over 1.9 billion views on her YouTube channel, and yeah, it’s pretty easy to see that Stirling has cemented her place in pop culture.
So, how does this whimsical pixie celebrate the upcoming holidays? With her sixth full-length, and second Christmas record, Snow Waltz. Comprised of eight classic offerings and five originals, the 13-song collection is a mood intended to both mesmerize with its instrumental storytelling as it provides a beautifully subtle accompaniment to your holiday festivities.
In comparison to 2017’s Warmer in the Winter, her latest sees Stirling taking a slightly more traditional approach to song selection—meaning that there is no Grinch lurking atop Mount Crumpit, nor do we peak Tchaikovsky’s sugar plum fairies. Instead, the musician-composer sticks closer to traditional Christian offerings that are apt to appeal to a slightly older demographic; those who favor the likes of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” over “Jingle Bell Rock” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”.
Yet, Stirling is still happy to inject her passion and youth into every ounce of Snow Waltz, bringing some darker edges and deeper furrows to some of her reinvigorated takes on the classics. In this, she is careful to begin her latest by setting the mood before she launches into a phenomenal demonstration of her superb instrumentation. Despite a somewhat jarring electronic backbone, her electric violin work is flawless, gifting renewed spirit to “Sleigh Ride.” It is the perfect opener for a collection that, as a whole, does exactly this: infuse a renewed sense of purpose into beloved holiday favorites.
Working alongside Grammy Award-nominated Producer Gladius (Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato), tracks like the aforementioned “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” are viewed through a new perspective, while “Joy to the World” receives a Celtic-dusted retelling that fits beautifully, allowing Stirling’s strings to flutter passionately across each note and embolden her version of the 18th-century carol. She also has fun spicing up “Feliz Navidad” and altering the tempo of “Little Drummer Boy,” the latter allowing her virtuosity to twinkle. Meanwhile, there’s a dark and sultry nature to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” that makes the reimagining feel like it could have fit flawlessly on 2019’s Artemis, thanks to its massive layers of sound.
Then there are the original songs that offer something new for this holiday season. “Crazy For Christmas,” featuring singer-songwriter Bonnie McKee, offers a nostalgic feel, one where McKee’s candy cane vocals are the perfect complement to Stirling’s angelic artistry. Similarly well-matched is Pop singer Frawley, who, much like her predecessor, makes an unstoppable duo with the violinist on “Christmas Time with You.” And former American Idol runner-up David Archuleta brings his vocal might to “Magic,” where we are urged to keep the holiday spirit all year long.
The further into Snow Waltz we get, the more chances that Stirling is willing to take with her arrangements; infusing a sense of her own magic into the collection. Occupying the midway point, the titular “Snow Waltz” tackles sonic storytelling, bringing listeners on a journey of shifting moods that encapsulate varying aspects of December—from the stormy skies and snow-covered boughs to children’s feet pattering across the floor on Christmas morning. It contrasts well with the likes of “O Holy Night,” where a minimalist arrangement and whisper soft harmonies place sole focus on the violin, or “Deck the Halls,” where the joyful and triumphant is relayed in a slightly altered format.
However, with this being Stirling’s second December 25th rodeo, it’s a bit surprising that it is not free from some bizarre artistic choices. For one, the Rock-leaning first single, “Ice Storm,” is selected to end the experience, whereas “Deck the Halls” would have resonated better. Then there’s the electronic beat that seems to challenge the violin on the first half of the record, before ultimately making peace and stepping into the background on “Little Drummer Boy.” And for the José Feliciano smash “Feliz Navidad,” a disservice is done to the Flamenco guitar-work of Mark Ballas (Stirling’s former Dancing with the Stars partner who himself is a multi-talented creator). Faded into the mix like an afterthought, what could have been a hypnotic moment fails to achieve “muy caliente” status.
Still, Snow Waltz was created by Miss Stirling and is, therefore, exceptional. Her love and respect for these classics sings through each note, providing a joy-filled soundtrack for the upcoming holidays. It’s subtle, perhaps more so than Warmer in the Winter, while embracing some ominous elements that provide a satisfying pop. In this, Stirling imbues her holiday soundtrack with a sense of realism, a spirit of adventure, and a child-like whimsy that still rings within the best of us. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Snow Waltz 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Aside from being an exceptional musician, Stirling is a devout philanthropist. She started an annual drive, “The Upside Fund,” around each holiday season to help families in dire need of support during a medical crisis and has partnered with medical companies including, RIP Medical Debt, Resolve Medical Bills, and Dollar For to pay off over $4.5 million in medical debt and bills nationally. For more information on this year’s drive and how to help, please visit lindseystirling.com/theupsidefund