In their 30+ years of writing and performing together, Billboard-charting acoustic duo Storyhill releases their first holiday album Bethlehem. Embracing the full depth and meaning of the Advent and Christmas season, the album leans into the message of hope for a more peaceful world.
Storyhill’s Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson started working on the album in 2019 when they were touring behind their 30th anniversary release Where to Begin. They were in Chris’ living room in Bozeman, Montana on the first day of summer woodshedding parts to “Lo, How a Rose Is Blooming” when, as if on cue, dark clouds came rolling over the mountains releasing a flurry of snow that covered the green grass and dandelions in the yard. Two inches had fallen by the time they finished their arrangement of the hymn. From that auspicious beginning, the duo continued to write new songs and rework familiar holiday favorites like “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” for which they crafted a new melody.
“We wanted to make a record that added something new to the conversation about the Christmas story--a vision that flips the narrative of this world and makes the first last, the last first, and lifts up the lowly among us,” John says. “We wanted to explore the story of a poor refugee, born in a manger, because no one would take him in.”
These themes became increasingly relevant as their touring came to an abrupt halt in March 2020 with the onset of the pandemic. During that time they worked remotely with Chris in Bozeman and John in St. Paul, Minnesota. When it was safe, John drove his 1970 VW bus out to Montana for some extended recording sessions, parking his camper in Chris’ backyard next to the chicken coop.
Although both experienced engineers who have produced countless projects for other artists, Chris and John had never produced their own Storyhill albums without additional producers and engineers. Making Bethlehem provided a unique opportunity to capture themselves at their best, recording all but two tracks at Chris’s studio Basecamp Recording. “We gave ourselves the time and space to find our natural rhythm for performing these songs to our highest potential,” Chris says. “It was liberating being the only two cooks in the kitchen--free from the clocks and distractions of others.”
The originals “Could It Be” and “The New Colossus” (adapted from the Emma Lazarus poem) were recorded at Sacred Heart in Duluth--a spacious cathedral-turned-music center that lends an ethereal quality to these reverent songs. Adding just the right amount of extra ornamentation and dimension to the record are a few of their favorite musicians--Tom Murphy (mandolins), Heidi Nagel (cello), Mike Parsons (upright bass, fiddle, banjo), and Mai Bloomfield and Marcie Lovgren (background vocals).
Centered solidly around Chris and John’s acoustic guitar work and unearthly brotherly harmonies, Bethlehem is sure to delight Storyhill fans and become a Christmas folk classic, providing an oasis of peace and calm in a time when we need it most.