Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CD Review: “Celtic Christmas” by Putumayo Presents


Celtic Christmas

'Nollaig Shona Duit' (Happy Christmas) is the traditional Celtic greeting at Christmas time and this CD celebrates the season with wonderfully folksy Irish and Scottish voices and Celtic instrumental arrangements on traditional carols. In doing so, it makes for a welcome change of the usual “mall music’ too often heard this time of year.

Music may just be one of the first signs that Christmas is approaching, and one of the oldest. Wherever people gather, there is bound to be music, whether played by great orchestra’s, or good friends and neighbors. A fiddle, a mandolin, a lone piper, guitar, flute or just a few friends harmonizing around the hearth. It is a season when we can all join in and sings songs that warm our hearts and share in the true spirit of the season.

That is the beauty to be found in this collection. It opens with “Here We Come A-Wassailing” by The Albion Christmas Band, with Kellie While, Simon Care, Ashley Hutchings & Simon Nichol present this favorite in a simple arrangement that embraces that spirit; acoustic guitar and bass guitar, melodeon, keyboards, drum, morris dancing and tambourine with sweet, folksy voices. Next up is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in an instrumental version by Charles T. Cozens the noted Canadian conductor/arranger. Here he ‘orchestrates’ this classic on traditional Celtic instruments to beautiful effect.

The Gothard Sisters update the classic “Little Drummer Girl” . The Irish Step dancers and classically trained violinists from the Pacific Northwest render this carol in a traditional style, with fiddle and guitar, that will have you lifting a cup of hot cider.

“The Little Drummer Girl” The Gothard Sisters

The DruidStones contribute the French carol “Noel Nouvelet”. DruidStone was a side project of the renown Irish harpist Áine Minogue, who also gives us another tune on the album. With a group of top Celtic musicians she presents this song to represent the Celtic heritage in France, Brittany being one of the six Celtic nations.

The Nashville based composer, pianist, songwriter and arranger, David Huntsinger, staying with the French theme gives us “Angels We Have Heard On High'” whose lyrics are derived from the traditional French carol, “Les Anges dans nos Campagnes”. Then, Charles T. Cozens is back with a flute rendition of “Good King Wenceslas”.

Next we have Lasirfhiona Ni Chonaola’s original  Gaelic recording of “Nollaig Bhan (White Christmas)”. Lasairfhíona (pronounced Lah-sah-reena) is an Irish singer/songwriter. She is deeply rooted in the sean-nós singing style of her home on Inis Oírr, one of the Aran Islands. You don’t have to speak Gaelic to hear the beauty of this traditional tune recorded especially for this collection.

Steve Schuch & The Night Heron Consort give us a song based on the 86th Psalm, and music based on a Handel melody; “Joy To The World”. This is followed by the other Áine Minogue offering, “Manx Jezebel Carol”, a song from The Isle Of Man, also one of the six Celtic Nations along with Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. The “Manx Jezebel Carol” is a lively, syncopated melodoy, probably meant for dancing and most probably derives from pre-Christian solstice ceremonies.

Next comes a familiar carol whose opening line, and title, remind those gathered to celebrate the season, and may have celebrated with too much eggnog, of the true significance of the season. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is performed by one of the most famous ‘New Age’ musicians, David Arkenstone.

Closing this wonderful Celtic celebration of Christmas is popular Scottish singer/songwriter, Dougie MacLean on Robert Burns “Auld Lang Syne”. Tho’ the song is world famous, and sang by many revelers the world over, you may not know that the bittersweet melody translates from the Scot's as ‘Old Long Since’ meaning long, long ago. The song first gained prominence in celebrations of Hogmanay, the Scots word for the last day of the year.

Put a candle in the window on Christmas eve to light the way for weary travellers (Joseph and Mary), and remember the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household and only be extinguished by a girl bearing the name 'Mary'. Set the ‘Laden Table’ - After evening meal on Christmas eve the kitchen table was again set and on it were placed a loaf of bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins, a pitcher of milk and a large lit candle. The door to the house was left unlatched so that Mary and Joseph, or any wandering traveller, could avail of the welcome. And greet your friends, neighbors, loved ones and strangers with 'Nollaig Shona Duit' which is pronounced as 'null-ig hun-a dit', one and all.

Celtic Christmas brings to you the spirit of the simple way the season is celebrated in the Celtic lands. Give this one a listen.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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