The festive and contemplative sides of life are part of Irish music all through the year, and never more so than at the Christmas season. Several newly released recordings along with an old favorite or two for you to listen to around your Irish fireside:
The fellowship and festive side of things is the focus of Celtic Christmas, a collection from Putumayo World Music which includes artists from Ireland, Scotland, England, Canada, and the United States through its eleven tracks. That hearty song of holiday invitation Here We Come a-Wassailing is the opener, as performed by the Albion Christmas Band. You can almost see the steps of medieval dancers and you listen to Druid Stone sing Noel Nouvelet, and David Huntsinger continues the dance idea, turning the carol Angels We Have Heard on High into a piece that will have your feet tapping as well. Harpist Aine Minogue adds a wintry feeling with the Jezebel Carol, Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola sings White Christmas in Irish, and Dougie MacLean closes things out with a song from his fellow Scot Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne.
Jennifer Cutting and the Ocean Orchestra hold both festive and contemplative sides of the season in good company with each other on Song of Solstice. The orchestra comprises instruments including bouzouki, acoustic bass, accordion, flutes, whistle, bodhran, guitar, keyboards, and voice. The title track, Song of Solstice, celebrates both the joys and the work of winter, and the good fellowship which come along with all that. It may just become a seasonal classic, and it will certainly have you singing along, and as the song suggests, raising your glasses high, as well. People Look East invites a quieter look at the season, as does Christmas Day in the Morning, which is offered in a spare version featuring just Celtic harp and bodhran. Green Man takes things in a lively direction, in a celebration of flourishing through winter and the male spirits of Celtic legend. From celebration to contemplation and back again, Song of Solstice is a fine weaving of traditional and original music for the winter season.
Her parents came from the west of Ireland to New York, which is where Eileen Ivers grew up and became, among other things, a top notch fiddle player and composer whose background includes Cherish the Ladies and Riverdance. With the album An Nollaig, she offers holiday themed jigs and reels mixed in with seasonal favorites to make a collection of music both old and new, “Like the ornaments of the Christmas tree, lovingly passed down over the years,” Ivers says. Susan McKeown adds her voice to Don OIche Ud i mBeithill, and there’s a very Celtic twist on Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring among the offerings.
You’ve met Matt and Shannon Heaton’s music in the Irish gift list here at the fireside, and I’ll second that recommendation. Their seasonal album, Fine Winter’s Night, is a lovely mix of voice and instrument, lead and harmony, and new songs with familiar ones. The title track, in which Shannon contemplates the work, beauty, and changes of winter, is one of my favorites, as is Matt’s original imagining of the beginning of a holiday romance, First Snowfall of December. There’s a tender version of O Little Town of Bethlehem, and the crisp instrumental set Day Dawn which pairs a an air on the flute with two jigs on guitar is also a keeper, as are all the tracks in this gathering of song and tune.
Narada Presents the Best of Celtic Christmas really sounds like Christmas in Ireland and Irish America. There are two discs. One is all music by the Ireland based group Dordan, and it’s called The Night Before. Through songs and tunes including Wayfarer’s Welcome, Oiche Nollag, and Mistletoe Waltz, they invoke the sense of anticipation that the holiday season brings. On the second disc, Cathie Ryan starts things off with an understated take on It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, with just her voice and guitar, and fiddler Bonnie Rideout caps the collection fifteen tracks later with an anthemic version of Adeste Fidelis.. In between, Kathy Mattea offers a lullabye, Boys of the Lough play a set of jigs, Mairi MacInnes and William Jackson join for Silent Night, and Maddy Prior takes a rollicking look as I Saw Three Ships. John Whelan, Altan, and Natalie MacMaster are among the artists who also join in.
Irish music around the fireside is always a good choice. May these suggestions add to your holiday celebrations.