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How to Build a Celtic Music Collection

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So you wanna build up your Celtic music collection, do ya? Well, we're here to help. Whether you're looking to start a collection from scratch or build up a burgeoning section of your CD shelf, we have some ideas for places to start and places to go from there. Celtic music, or the traditional and contemporary music of the Celtic Nations (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, The Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany, and occasionally including Galicia, Asturias, and Cantabria), is widely varied, and with so much to choose from, can be pretty intimidating. But you have to start somewhere, so here are some ideas to get you going.

1. Start With Traditional Irish Music

The Chieftains - Water From The Well
(c) RCA Victor

You may as well start with the largest and best-known exporter of Celtic music, Ireland. Populated with well-known classic names like The Chieftains and newer traditionalists like Teada, this list is a solid and familiar place to start:

Top 10 Traditional Irish Music Starter CDs

2. ... and Add Some Traditional Scottish Music

Shooglenifty - 'Radical Mestizo'
(c) Compass Records

There's a burgeoning contemporary trad scene happening right now throughout Scotland, but especially in the highlands and islands, where young musicians are taking the music of their ancestors and adding just a touch of modern flair (not to mention modern recording and production methods) to create something vibrant and new. The added bonus is that Scottish music is great fun to talk about: you get to say "Shooglenifty" and "Capercaillie" and any number of other fun names with astounding regularity. Have a listen to some of the best that this scene has to offer:

9 Contemporary Traditional Scottish CDs Which You Should Hear

3. Don't Forget the Cousins Across the Sea

Mary Jane Lamond - 'Storas'
(c) Trade Root Music Group / Turtlemusik

Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia, was populated by Scottish settlers who never let their music die. It evolved slightly differently over the years than the music of their cousins back home, but it remains gloriously and unmistakably Celtic, through and through. Get your hands on some:

The Music of Cape Breton - 9 Essential Starter CDs

4. Get a Little Punky

Bodhran
(c) Stockbyte / Getty Images

If starkly traditional stuff isn't your bag, or if you're seeking breadth in developing your Celtic collection, try a little bit of Celtic Punk. You'll probably recognize some of the names on this list (if you don't recognize at least the Pogues, I'm not sure that you and I can be friends any longer, actually), but some might be new finds:

The Top 6 Celtic Punk Bands

5. ... and Perhaps a Bit Ethereal

Loreena McKennitt - An Ancient Muse - 2006 CD
(c) Quinlan Road Records

A lot of people associate Celtic music with modern new age blending artists like Enya and Loreena McKennitt, and there are many more artists working in that milieu. Here are some CDs to get you started down that path:

If You Like Enya, You Might Like...

6. Keep the Ladies in Mind

Cherish the Ladies - Woman of the House
Rounder Records

The Irish-ish supergroup/television phenomenon Celtic Woman have brought new awareness of Celtic music to millions of fans, despite heavy eye-rolls from many Celtic traditionalists. Still, they represent the ladies, who are too often forgotten in many genres of music, but who hold their ground steadfastly in the Celtic lands. Make sure you've got some of these gals in your collection:

If You like Celtic Woman (or Even if You Don't), You Might Like...

7. Have Some Seasonal Goodness at the Ready

(c) Compass Records, 2007
(c) Compass Records

If you celebrate Christmas, don't hesitate to seek out some Celtic Christmas music. Though standard Christmas music can be pretty campy and corny, you'd never know it if you'd only heard the artists on this list. Great stuff, this:

Celtic Music Christmas CDs: From Ireland to Scotland and Beyond!

8. ... and Go See Live Music!

artistic close-up photograph of violin, fiddle photo
Aaron Graubart / Getty Images
The live music promoter in me can't let you get away without me telling you to go see a live band or three. If you live in or near any sort of reasonably-sized metropolis in North America, Australia, or Europe (and throughout the rest of the world, in many cases), I can almost guarantee that there's an Irish band or session who plays near you occasionally, and probably often for free. Go hear them, have a pint, and pick up their CD at the end of the night. Starting locally is a fantastic way to build your collection from the grass roots.
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