Generally speaking, Celtic Christmas music is some of my favorite holiday music in existence. I love the way a warm fiddle or a rousing penny whistle works to evoke an old-fashioned Christmas spirit. And I'm a notorious Grinch, so I need all the help I can get in evoking Christmas spirit.
By that measure, then, this CD does just fine. The songs feature fiddles and penny whistles and even some pipes, among other things, and there's certainly no question that they're Celtic-sounding. What I was really hoping for, though, was for Putumayo to tap into their enormous resource network and pull out at least a few good, obscure, traditional Christmas carols from the Celtic lands. But, alas. There's not much of that. Harpist Aine Minogue contributes the lovely "Manx Jezebel Carol," an instrumental number from the little-known musical traditions of the Isle of Man, which the liner notes indicate may be old enough to date to pre-Christian Celtic solstice celebrations. Minogue is also a member of DruidStone, who offer the other uncommon song, the traditional French Christmas Carol "Noel Nouvelet." Other than those two, though, there's not a song on here that your average American caroler doesn't already know.
That's not to say that the collection is bad, because it certainly is not -- it's very listenable and nicely evocative. But if you're expecting "The Wexford Carol" or other favorite Irish Christmas tunes, this isn't the place to look. To make up for it, though, there's a spry instrumental "Little Drummer Girl" (same song, different gender, apparently) performed by the Gothard Sisters, a Washington State-based Irish group made up of three talented young sisters; a gorgeous "Auld Lang Syne" (yes, it's a New Year's Song, but we won't nitpick) from Scottish singer/songwriter Dougie MacLean; and a surprisingly jazzy Gaelic-language version of "White Christmas" ("Nollaig Bhan") from sean nos singer Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaol, who recorded the song specifically for this collection. Lowlights include the fairly bland and elevator-ish "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" (my favorite Christmas song, so I'm picky) and "Good King Wenceslas," from composer Charles T. Cozens, which prove that Celtic instrumentation alone is not enough to evoke an authentic spirit.
All-in-all, it's a reasonable collection, one that will certainly please casual listeners and fans of standard Christmas carols. Hard-core fans of traditional Irish music or any other genre of trad Celtic music might find themselves less excited, though.
- The Albion Christmas Band - "Here We Come A-Wassailing"
- Charles T. Cozens - "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
- The Gothard Sisters - "Little Drummer Girl"
- DruidStone - "Noel Nouvelet"
- David Huntsinger - "Angels We Have Heard on High"
- Charles T. Cozens - "Good King Wenceslas"
- Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaol - "Nollaig Bhan" ("White Christmas")
- Steve Schuch & The Night Heron Consort - "Joy To The World"
- Aine Minogue - "Manx Jezebel Carol"
- David Arkenstone - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
- Dougie MacLean - "Auld Lang Syne"