It Was 20 Years Ago Today

 

Well, maybe not to the day, but it was the winter of 1998. For most of the year, Dan had been working on music for a Christmas album and he’d compiled fourteen Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque-styled songs for it: nine new originals and five ancient and standard songs.

The tracks were wonderful: when he played back "Feast of Fools" I saw rows of lords and ladies in a great hall, left hands on hips, right hands clasped high in the air, dancing forward and back. "Winterskol" conjured images of a horse-drawn sleigh making its way through a snow-laden forest, and "Snowfall" still brings tears to my eyes, it so perfectly captures snowflakes drifting down on a still winter day.

A huge Loreena McKennitt fan, Dan was thrilled when Hugh Marsh agreed to come to the ranch for a few days to lay down some violin riffs on a few tracks. Dan loved what Hugh did, and he ended up playing on five tracks. A tall, soft-spoken Canadian, he patiently answered Dan's "fan" questions about Loreena, as Dan plied him with wine and home cooking.

Dan played everything in the studio really loud; usually too loud for my ears. When he played "I Saw Three Ships" for me, I shouted "all I heard were wood blocks!" as the song ended.  He said he wanted them to be really present in the mix. I shrugged and said I really liked the rest of the song and went back to the art studio to paint. At 4:00 we would meet in the kitchen for lattes; after taking his first sips, he sheepishly admitted that after I left he'd played "Ships" again, and "all I could hear was wood blocks." 

One warm, sunny afternoon Dan mentioned how hard it was to record Christmas music in the summertime; he wasn't feeling the spirit. He ended up digging through boxes in the storage closet for Christmas lights and decorations, and hanging them in the cool, air conditioned basement studio. 

He asked me to try to find "In The Bleak Midwinter" online - he loved Christina Rosetti's lyrics but wasn't sure of Gustav Holst's melody, and wanted to get it right. Today this search would pull up thousands of results, but in 1998 all I could find was a tinny recording from a music box that someone had inexplicably posted. Dan was glad for it though, and listened to it over and over.

He had an idea for a CD cover: he wanted it to have an old Nordic feel, with a Celtic font and a stylized wreath on a leather book background. We sat together at Dan’s 15 inch Blue and White iMac and played with ideas and colors.

We didn’t like any of the stock images we found so I spent a couple of days creating a wreath from scratch and tweaking it until we had one we liked. It didn’t have enough depth in green, so we made it gold and put it on a leather texture background (pretty fake looking, but the best I could do) that we colored green (green and gold was Dan's favorite color combination.) Red berries, red text, and a stock image of a red candle, and Dan was pretty happy with it. 

I thought this would be a prototype and the record company graphics department would take it and work some magic with it, but Dan wanted to use it as it was and, just like that, I had my first album design credit.

You know how you feel when you see photos of yourself with that haircut you thought was so cool in the 80’s? Well, that’s how I started feeling about the Christmas CD a few years ago: it brought back good memories but looked really dated. So when the record label (Mailboat) was getting low on stock and it was time to re-order and scale back the package, I was suddenly inspired to give it a fresh new (old) look to reintroduce it.

 

I wanted something that really depicted the first Christmas morning, not just for the title, but because so many of the songs mention the birth of Christ in the manger. And it would be great if it had a medieval/renaissance feeling as well.

Dan loved Italian art and as soon as I saw “The Adoration of the Magi” by Antonio Vivarini I knew he would approve it for the cover. I found a font called “1785  Baskerville” that has an ancient document feel and put the black text on an old parchment color and added a scrolly-viney border. 

This new version doesn't have a booklet so I put Dan’s lovely intro and the credits on the inside of the package. The lyrics, which were in the booklet as well, can be found here on the website or in the songbook.

 

There were a few changes to make to the credits, but most everything is the same, including Dan’s shoutout to his mom, Margaret, "for the ginger snaps" she sent us every Christmas. Each cookie was individually wrapped in thin foil for freshness and protection in shipping and they were chewy gingery perfection.

There would be times in the recording studio when Dan had been working and reworking a song, obsessing over minute changes and overdubbing into the wee hours until, finally, his Maine Coon Cat, Buckaroo, would hop up on the mixing board and walk over to Dan and just sit there on the knobs and sliders, staring at him. When that happened, Dan knew it was time to walk away from the board; it was as good as it was going to get. He trusted Boone’s instincts, and that's why he gave him the producer credit: “Executive Producer: Remington Buckaroo Boone” which resulted in a call to the label by someone who wanted to talk to Mr. Boone about producing their record.

I hope you like the revised package, I think it reflects the feeling Dan was going for, with an elegant, classic look that will stand the test of time for generations to come. Naturally, many of you will be sad to see the old design retired, but I hope you'll come to appreciate the new one and, of course, the music remains; a timeless testament to Dan's immense talent and love of all genres of music.

~ Jean Fogelberg

My own personal thanks to Sali Kharazi at Full Stop Management for her invaluable help and, as always, Irving Azoff, who makes all things possible.

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