The Hippo


Nov 19, 2019








Courtesy photo.

Rocking Horse Christmas

When: Saturday, Dec. 19, 8 p.m. 
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $20 at

Holiday Horse
Christmas show spotlights studio’s best

By Michael Witthaus

For Brian Coombes, the Rocking Horse Christmas concert is an ex post facto gift list, a counting of the year’s musical bounty. Artists who recorded at his Pittsfield studio throughout the year gather for a super session of holiday songs. It began in 2013 as a television special and is now in its second year at Spotlight Cafe, Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts’ lobby nightclub. 

A steadily growing lineup for the Saturday, Dec. 19, show includes Greg Hawkes of The Cars, American Idol short lister Alex Preston, Pat & the Hats, Tristan Omand, Delanie Pickering and Chris Peters. Also appearing is Coombes’ latest find, singer-songwriter Anna Madsen. The Utah native will perform a favorite carol, “O Emmanuel,” then segue into the winter-themed “Golden Room,” a recently completed original song. 
Along with Brittany Gochez and Hannah Rose of Pat & the Hats, Madsen will provide a Hallelujah Chorus for Meg Josalen on “Christmas Star,” a tune she wrote specifically for the concert.
Though it’s barely been out for two months, Madsen’s dreamy EP Palm Reader is already in a few annual Top 10 lists — including the producer’s. 
“It’s fair to say that she’s a favorite,” Coombes said recently, joined by Madsen for a FaceTime interview. Among the record’s guest musicians are Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki, Patrick Gochez, Bobby Rice and Joey Pierog.
The musical simpatico between the pair stands out on the record. Madsen’s soaring, majestic vocals are given just the right amount of texture by Coombes, with touches of mellotron, omnichord, therevox, taurus pedal and other electronic gizmos included throughout. Rick Black, an old band mate of the producer, played a key role. 
“He played a lot of the complicated stuff, like the harpsichord and the celeste, which we call the Harry Potter machine,” Coombes said, adding, “but a lot of it comes down to Anna’s vision for the tunes.” 
Madsen is a brilliant song crafter, and Palm Reader is bathed in an ethereal glow. It’s the sort of record that will please fans of Enya or Sarah McLachlan.  
“I like to work in themes,” she said. “I love to tell stories and fairy tales, so it had that mystical flavor. … I kind of did that on purpose.”
Growing up in the Mormon faith helped fuel Madsen’s musical inspiration.
“There are some really beautiful pioneer hymns I grew up with that I think have influenced a lot of my music,” she said. “Church music aside, I really love The Civil Wars and am a huge fan of Enya and more contemporary artists like Lana Del Ray — she is one of my favorites. I kind of like everything, though. I love the classical contemporary composers such as Hans Zimmer. … It’s hard to pick and choose.” 
A video for the title track will be released Dec. 20. 
“It’s set in the 1700s; it’s a love story but kind of has this Salem Witch Hunter vibe to it,” Madsen said, then demurred in her description of the clip. “You’ll have to wait for it!”
Madsen recently recorded a duet with Alex Preston. “I Would Save You” is a Coombes/Patrick Gochez cowrite commissioned for the upcoming film Granite Orpheus. Coombes feels the song of empowerment suits her well.
“There is a moment where Anna really hits a high note — I call that the Disney moment, and it really allowed Anna to step outside herself and be a diva at that moment,” he said. “She harmonizes with Al in the choruses, and that sounds like the ethereal Anna that I really enjoy, but on the bridge it really gave her a chance to belt.”
Following the ensemble show in Concord, Madsen and Coombes plan a series of shows to promote Palm Reader in 2016. On Feb. 13, she’ll appear as part of a New Hampshire music showcase at Olympia’s Zorba Music Hall in Lowell, Mass. The show is called South of the Border.
On Feb. 20, she’ll return to Concord for a concert with Pat & the Hats. 
“There will be a third act to be announced,” said Coombes. “It will be something that is mutually cross-pollinated … with Pat perhaps singing a version of ‘I Would Save You,’ and I know that I will probably be sitting in.”

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