It’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christmas; of course, the clue is in the word but for every smiling man in a red suit that comes along, one less religious reminder is forced off of the shelf, perhaps Santa attracts more people than a baby in a stable surrounded by donkeys, cows and, for some reason, a lobster.
It’s a sign of the times, and not something I really agree with so when the thought of reviewing an album of Christmas songs came my way, I was a little reluctant because I can think of little worse than listening to yet more covers of pop hits. So imagine my relief when the list of songs contain ‘Deck The Halls’, ‘O Holy Night’, ‘Sleigh Ride’ and ‘Silent Night’ among other bona fide classics. These are the songs we sung in school, surrounded by paper chains and snot on our jumper sleeves. Joy to the World indeed!
For those unfamiliar with four-piece female group Celtic Woman, the band hail from Ireland and have voices of angels, classically trained, they’ve sold millions of albums, toured the world and this level of class comes through on this album. We’ve got lush string arrangements played out by the FILMharmonic orchestra to back up the group on the fifteen tracks and, although it’s not to everyone’s taste, it’s hard to dismiss the musicianship or content here.
They blend the classical and the Celtic extremely well, the addition of instruments such as the whistle, bodhran and, one of my favourite instruments, the Uillean pipes (for some reason I hear this and instantly think of the sea…) and the bagpipes, which, incidentally they have the sheer audacity to use on ‘Silent Night’!
Not the first instrument that springs to mind, but it works.
And then there is the singing. Again it’s cleverly placed, sitting somewhere between classical and contemporary, not an easy task when some of these songs are centuries old, but the voices sound fresh and provide the icing on the Christmas cake.
It’s nice to hear ‘Wexford Carol’ included (another nod to the vibe of the album) and I hadn’t heard ‘Amid The Falling Snow’ before but it’s a highlight. There’s even time for a slight shift in atmosphere for the closing song ‘Feliz Navidad’ showing the band aren’t a one-trick pony but can mix it up and adapt deftly.
If you’re looking for a soundtrack to your Christmas day, this album could easily accompany a quiet breakfast before the unwrapping of presents, but I think I’ll be saving this for when the kids are in bed, when it’s just my wife and I and a brief moment of peace, before Boxing Day starts. Perfection.