various artists,
Cold Blow These Winter Winds
(Green Linnet, 2004)

Forget "White Christmas" or even "Blue Christmas" with Bing Crosby or Elvis -- we now have a great Celtic Christmas collection.

Take names like Karine Polwart, Andy Lang and Eliza Carthy, among others, mix in some top-notch musicians and an array of old and new material, steam well in the Queen's Hall of Edinburgh, distill through a good set of speakers, and you have the alternative Christmas album, Cold Blow These Winter Winds.

Opening with a beautifully simple set from piano and whistle, we are drawn into the yuletide spirit. This is followed by a lovely version of "Lullay, Lullay," also known as "The Coventry Carol," from Corrina Hewat.

We said you could almost leave Shane MacGowan out, but his Christmas classic "Fairytale of New York" is here, and it is a revelation, especially if you are used to hearing him do the honors with Kirsty MacColl or Christy Moore. This version features almost the entire ensemble of singers and instruments ranging from bass to border pipes -- and it works. A similar lineup takes on "Little Drummer Boy" to good effect.

It is hard to beat Eliza Carthy when it comes to unaccompanied singing, especially here on "Dives and Lazarus." Another contemporary Christmas track that could do with more exposure is John Prine's "Christmas in Prison," sung here by Rory McLeod to his own guitar accompaniment. The traditional "Silent Night" also makes an appearance in a wonderful rendition featuring bouzouki and numerous voices.

The CD ends with a Dean Owens song called "It's Christmas Time" sung by a young lady named Billie Owens who, through lack of credit notes, we must assume to be Dean's daughter, very appropriate for the season.

This is a lovely album and an attractive alternative to the millions of other Christmas albums on sale, but it could be so addictive that many will play Christmas songs in July.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 11 December 2004

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