Tommy Sands,
To Shorten the Winter:
An Irish Christmas

(Green Linnet, 2001)

Although subtitled "An Irish Christmas," there are only a few actual Christmas songs on this splendid collection that should help to do precisely what its title suggests. These are songs of love and peace, some of which are specifically intended to ease the troubles in Tommy Sands' home country.

The first track, "Like the First Time It's Christmas Time," perfectly sets the tone of the album with its lyric, "All I want for Christmas is a land of love and peace." It's followed by what should become a classic, "Down By the Lagan Side," with its instantly memorable chorus, "And when we dance, we'll dance together / When we cry we'll hold each other / And when we love we'll love forever / Down by the Lagan side." "The Bushes of Jerusalem" is a true Christmas song, one that pulls off the great trick of sounding traditional while wholly originating with Sands. It's like an Irish rebel song in which Jesus is the rebel, aided by a pulsating beat and a klezmer flavor to the accordion.

Sands turns to the softest of rock for "A Whiter Shade of Pale," in which the pipes take the Bach counter-melody to glorious climes. Sands' own "Hearts of Love" is a tender depiction of an Irish Christmas and how one's attitude toward the holiday changes as the years pass. We delve more deeply into Christmas memories with "A Christmas Childhood," Patrick Kavanagh's poem, followed by the exquisite instrumental "A Call to Hope." There's another traditional-sounding Sands creation, "You're Welcome Here, Kind Stranger," with a fine message of brotherhood and generosity, and another classic chorus.

Several more non-Christmas songs follow: "Raglan Road," with Patrick Kavanagh's lovely lyrics, and "Slainte Mhaith," a setting of the old Irish blessing, along with Sands' original lyrics. There's a witty love song in "The Mixed Marriage," and the album ends on a grand and peaceful note with "Slan Abhaile."

Sands' vocals are consummately done, and the instrumental work is of the highest caliber throughout. To Shorten the Winter is a marvelous CD for any season of the year.

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 30 December 2001



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