Johnny Cunningham & Thomas Moore,
The Soul of Christmas: A Celtic
Music Celebration with Thomas Moore

(Upaya, 1997)

As a gift for someone interested in celebrating Christmas in a thoughtful way, I highly recommend The Soul of Christmas: A Celtic Music Celebration with Thomas Moore. This two-disc set is the product of a collaboration between author Thomas Moore (best known for Care of the Soul) and Celtic fiddler par excellence Johnny Cunningham.

The first disc is all music: 14 carols, chosen for the poetry of their lyrics. The carols are set in beautifully clean and spare arrangements, performed with simplicity and heart by top Celtic musicians such as Seamus Egan, Susan McKeown and Cathie Ryan. Some of the carols are familiar and others are less so, but each one shines like a miniature gem. Some that I particularly liked: the sparkling "In Dulci Jubilo" (from medieval Germany but arranged like an Irish jig), the haunting "We Three Kings" on flute, "I Saw Three Ships/Bells No Bells," performed with a light touch by Cunningham; and the radiant "Christ Child's Lullaby," with a vocal by special guest Kathy Mattea.

The second disc consists of all spoken words. In a series of thought-provoking short essays, Moore traces the history of various aspects of the Christmas celebration. He explores their resonances beyond the specific holiday, speculates on why they touch us so deeply, and suggests how we in today's world can recapture a lost sense of mystery. Moore reads these meditations in a thoughtful and low-key style with light musical accompaniment linking the individual sections. The CD also features two poems read by Cunningham in his lovely Scots burr.

The set is very handsomely presented in a small, hardback book format. The front and back covers have flaps to hold the CDs, and the entire text of the second disc is printed inside, with illustrations, on high-quality paper.

[ by Juliet Youngren ]
Originally printed in the WEFT Review,
reprinted with permission of the author

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