Katie McMahon,
Celtic Christmas
(Credo, 2003)

Just in time for the two-week stretch leading up to Christmas, an early present arrived in my mailbox from Irish singing sensation Katie McMahon. Celtic Christmas can't help but put you into a festive, yet contemplative, frame of mind.

First brought to the public's attention as a vocal soloist for Riverdance, the former Anuna singer (now touring with Secret Garden) uses her perfect soprano voice to great effect and celebrates the holidays in style.

The 15-track CD is a joyous occasion all by itself. And Katie provides a varied playlist for the party, with songs that range from sacred to secular, somber to sprightly.

The disc begins with a beautiful, sparse version of "In the Bleak Mid-Winter." The mood picks up considerably for "The Boar's Head Carol," which starts at a good clip and gets even jollier by the end. For "The Wexford Carol" and "The Holly & the Ivy," Katie returns to a more relaxed, peaceful setting, and she sings them with just the right touch of wistful wonder. During "My Dancing Day," I can easily imagine the singer twirling across the floor to the lively beat.

"Silent Night," justly called the most famous carol of all time, gets regal treatment here. Not only is Katie's voice gorgeous, as usual, but she sings the first verse in the original German, the second (my favorite!) in Gaelic and the last in English.

The second half of the album is easily as strong as the first, including a peppy "Good King Wenceslaus," a delicate "What Child is This" leading into a spirited "Greensleeves" jig, a soothing "Little Road to Bethlehem" and a jaunty "Christmas Pipes." "In Dulci Jubilo" weaves an intricate web of joyful song in both English and Latin. "Suantrai" is a Scots-Gaelic lullaby that captures the essence of a mother's love. "Gaudete" is fast and fun, an enthusiastic song of praise. Katie closes the album with "The First Day of the Year," a 12th-century Irish carol presented here a cappella, all the better for its simplicity.

The recording benefits from the work of several fine musicians. Katie herself provides a precise, lilting harp on four tracks, while Tom Schaefer supplies fiddle, Karen Mueller plays autoharp, guitar and bouzouki, and Michael Bissonnette adds percussion. Additional singers are Lisa Gulbranson, Sue Krueger, Mark Uecker and John Gisselquist. Besides brilliant backing, the musicians get a chance to shine on the instrumental track "Christmas Day/Christmas Eve."

The green-on-green liner notes are excellent, providing the lyrics as well as brief notes from Katie explaining the history of the music or some personal significance to her.

All in all, this is a package Christmas enthusiasts will love to find under their trees. But do them a favor, really, and give it to them a week or two early so they can enjoy the Yuletide with this sweet, majestic music.

by Tom Knapp
Rambles.NET
17 December 2005

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