Liner Notes: Bob McNally – Handmade Christmas Music

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Welcome back to Liner Notes. In this special festive edition of the series, we’ve got an absolute treat of an album to brighten up your holiday season.

It’s just so sweet; cavity-inducing even, like an almond milk eggnog stirred with a candy cane straw. Bob McNally hand-built and played every instrument you hear on this record. But if that wasn’t enough, he also recorded every instrument on every song, making this a truly handmade album from start to finish. 

Bob does give a big thank you to his friend Pete Schug who loaned him a 4-track tape recorder to make this record. At this time, I want to thank Pete as well. Thanks, Pete – you helped bring this treat of an album to life.

Handmade Christmas Music is one of the most wholesome Holiday records ever released. I use the word wholesome rather than “best”, because best is always debatable, and promotes competition rather than togetherness.

In the Danish language, there is a word, “hyggeligt”. The most common translation for this word in the English language is “cozy”, but as is the case with many language differences, the meanings don’t always fully translate to the same thing. In my opinion, the textures and performances captured by Bob on this record serve as the perfect aide to help describe the feeling and all-encompassing experience of “hyggeligt”. Just read the first paragraph from the liner notes on the back of the album, and I hope you will feel what I’m trying to convey:

“Christmas time is about celebration and life. Sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle and lose sight of the joy and happiness the season brings. There are times for solemnity, and Christmas is not one of them. This music is an expression of my love for Christmas. I hope when you listen to this, it brings out the joy and excitement of Christmas like never before, even if you listen to it in July.”

Images taken from the Handmade Christmas Music vinyl album housed in the BCaRchives.

I cannot remember how or when Handmade Christmas Music entered the BCaRchives (the name of our record collection), but I do know that it was a divine gift. This record has been played for years on our radio program, at family gatherings, and with me strumming along by myself reflecting on the year that is soon to pass. As I’m writing this and listening to the album right along with these keystrokes I cannot help but know that other people share the exact same feeling as I regarding Handmade Christmas Music. That’s the togetherness this season brings.

Inside this album lives so much art that is wrapped up perfectly and topped with a hangtag saying, “To: Whomever Longs for Wonderment – From: Bob McNally”. 

When I listen to this record, so many thoughts prance around in my head (like reindeer, naturally). Do I write about the mastercraft abilities of those in the Luthier trade? Should I write about the vulnerability and dedication it takes to record oneself (let alone release it)? What about the years of dedication it takes for a musician to master these iconic holiday songs with such grace and emotion? It’s impossible to cover each of these points with the detail they deserve, so instead, I will write what this record makes me feel right now in December of 2020:

This album, to me, shows that we as humans can create whatever we want in order to express ourselves. It is in each of us to choose how we create the life we wish to achieve. This statement is not to discount outside factors that impact each and every one of us differently. But I am saying that we have the ability to treat ourselves with kindness. We then get to choose how we share that kindness with others. I feel that when Bob McNally released Handmade Christmas Music, his kindness was felt by me roughly 35 years after it was originally released. This review is not a second-hand gift from Black Circle Radio to all of you Sound Matters readers. It is the passing forward of a sonic gift of love, mysticism, and yes, kindness that I have felt for years now. Happy Holidays. You are loved.

Liner Notes:

Pressing Being Reviewed: 1983 on Handcrafted Recordings  (HCR 100) – Click here to view on Discogs.

Featuring:

  • Bob McNally: Hammered Dulcimer, Mountain Dulcimer, Acoustic Bass Guitar, The Backpackers Guitar™, The Stringed Pennywhistle™

Recorded by: Bob McNally

All Instruments Built by: Bob McNally

Cover Photo: M. Provost

Back Photo: J. King

Album Design: GGC Graphics Co.

Recorded: 1979

For those who’d like to learn more about instruments made by Bob McNally’s Luthier business, you can do so at strumstick.com