Sometimes the best music comes about with no planning, no forethought, no sheet music …just the passion of the musicians and a moment in time when a partnership is forged that produces magic. Such is the case with the collaboration between two sisters, Maree McRae and Linda Hickman. Both longtime, award-winning musicians in their own right, the women came together in Colorado to produce an acoustic Christmas album of piano, flute and guitar. The sisters will debut their album, “Lights,” at the Ice House Cafe in Evergreen on Friday, Dec. 17, at 7 p.m.
McRae and Hickman were raised in a musical household, with their mother performing as an opera singer in California and the rest of the siblings playing piano, flute, guitar and violin. McRae started playing piano at age 5 and began studying guitar at 10. From its humble beginnings, McRae’s musical career took off. McRae performed as the lead singer and multi-instrumentalist for one of the Rocky Mountain region’s premier country-pop groups, Cadillac Ranch.
After several years, McRae left the band to pursue a solo career. Her first album, “I Won’t Settle for Less,” made its mark alongside Tom Petty and John Hiatt on the Top 40 Americana Chart. McRae’s second album, “Urgency,” was a very personal venture written in response to her son’s diagnosis with CVID, a primary immunodeficiency disease. The single “Breeze” from that album ranked No. 7 on the National Adult Contemporary Chart, alongside songs by Taylor Swift, Michael Buble and Daughtry.
After the success of “Breeze,” McRae began touring, including shows in Hawaii, at which she invited her sister, internationally recognized Celtic artist Linda Hickman, to join her.
“Linda is a great Irish whistle and flute player. My music is more adult contemporary. It never dawned on either of us to collaborate until I told her she should come to my shows in Hawaii with me,” says McRae.
Hickman’s musical world is more instrumental than that of her singer/songwriter sister. Hickman is a longtime member of Celtic Thunder, a band that started at a pub in Baltimore and went on to become one of the most influential traditional music groups in the U.S. Hickman has performed three times at the White House, and her lively flute and tin-whistle performance can be heard on all three of Celtic Thunder’s albums.
Hickman’s solo album, “The Windy Day,” features original compositions on wooden flute, tin whistle and American Indian flute, and tracks were used on Discovery Channel’s 2001 “Outward Bound” series and in Showtime’s 2003 documentary “What’s Going On: Children Soldiers of the Sierra Leone” narrated by Michael Douglas.
“My world is much more instrumental than Maree’s,” Hickman says. “That realm doesn’t really involve singing. In my Irish world, I play for dances, so my compositions are all geared that way. It was such a great opportunity to work with Mary before the Hawaii concerts. We each started looking at our own music in a different way.”
The concerts in Hawaii planted the seed for an idea that would germinate in the coming year.
“I had been thinking about creating a very serene collection of Christmas carols,” says McRae. “There was a very short window of time when Linda was visiting me in Colorado. We started talking about carols that would work to create the soulful feeling that we both convey through our music. We got into the studio, and the result was ‘Lights.’ It was really a spontaneous thing between us.”
The team combined their arrangements of traditional carols such as “Silent Night” and “The First Noel” with original compositions. McRae’s “Grace” is a poignant interlude that places the listener in front of a fireplace with snow falling peacefully outside the window. Although Hickman’s “Winter Waltz,” a flute composition accompanied by McRae’s piano, was written in modern times, it could easily reside in the annals of traditional carols with its quiet, warm voice and otherworldly feeling.
“The album was a joy to create,” says McRae. “Our instruments weave in and out of each other — almost like a conversation between us without any words. And to top it off, we had the pleasure of recording together as sisters.”
McRae and Hickman will be performing together from this new holiday album at the Ice House Café in Evergreen on Dec. 17.
Linda Hickman and
Maree McRae in concert
Debut of the holiday album, “Lights”
Friday, Dec. 17, 7 p.m.
The Ice House Cafe, on Main Street in Evergreen, at 28065 Highway 74
Admission is $5 at the door.
Call 303-670-0433 for more information.