Celtic Woman,
A Christmas Celebration
(Manhattan, 2006)

Remember back when you were a kid and a favorite playground game was king of the hill? It was fun being on top but sooner or later you would be knocked off your perch. Wouldn't it have been great to be able to replace yourself with yourself and still be the king?

That's exactly what Celtic Woman has done with its new CD Celtic Woman: A Christmas Celebration. This latest recording by the singing group began its life in the top position on the Billboard World Music charts. After a record 81 consecutive weeks in the No. 1 spot, the group's initial album Celtic Woman was knocked all the way down to the No. 2 position.

Celtic Woman is a group of five superbly talented musicians made up of four vocalists -- including one who also is a harpist -- and a fiddler. See the March 17, 2006 review of Celtic Woman on Rambles.NET for more background and history.

Celebration is a collection of 15 of the most popular Christmas songs, every one of which is guaranteed to get you in the mood for the yuletide. It opens with a gentle rendition of "O Holy Night" with all five women singing both as soloists and in various combinations of harmony. They are backed by the Irish Film Orchestra and David Downes on keyboards. Orla Fallon follows with "Away in a Manger."

For those who want a more secular holiday atmosphere, the women perform a rousing rendition of "Ding Dong, Merrily on High" accompanied by a whole host of musicians and sounds. "White Christmas" follows with Chloe Agnew, Lisa Kelly and Meav Ni Mhaolchatha doing the honors. Meav and Mairead Nesbitt join for a Celtic version of "Silent Night."

A song new to me is the lively "Christmas Pipes," which teases the melody with just a hint of an uilleann pipe in the background. The recording includes such holiday standards as "The Christmas Song," "Carol of the Bells," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "O Come All Ye Faithful."

Although a mere teen, Chloe Agnew has an amazing voice that is showcased in an awe-inspiring rendition of "Panis Angelicus." Another new-to-me song is "Don Oiche Ud I Mbeithil" ("That Night in Bethlehem") sung by Chloe and Meav with Mairead on the fiddle. Although a short number, it's easy to picture this tune wafting from an Irish cottage. The CD concludes with "Let It Snow" as a bonus track.

David Downes, who was instrumental in getting this group together, produced and arranged the recording.

These five musicians blend their talents so seamlessly that it's often impossible to determine if a song is being sung by one or more voices. The effect is beautiful. Celtic Woman is a sound that, hopefully, will be around for many years and many Christmases to come.

For anyone interested in seeing Celtic Woman in person, they begin their next tour of the United States in mid-February. Complete list of cities and dates are available on their website.

This review was a rush effort to get it to you before Christmas in case anyone wanted to buy a last-minute stocking stuffer or treat to yourself and add to your own collection. Even if it's too late to get a copy before the holidays, get it for next year's Christmas season. If you do, you can discard the rest of your Christmas music; this recording has everything. After all, Celtic Woman has to be good to garner the top two spots on the world charts.

Merry Christmas.

by Bill Knapp
16 December 2006

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