For three years now over in Hell’s Kitchen a Yuletide tradition has been established every December growing out of the serendipitous relationship between the Irish Arts Center (IAC) and Dr. Mick Moloney.
They present an Irish Christmas and solstice over multiple days and weekends that will peak at 14 performances this year between December 7 and 18. The creative alliance relies on the strengths of both parties as the IAC provides a supportive and intimate atmosphere for the show to develop and thrive, and Moloney unleashes his vast rolodex and fertile imagination to produce a highly entertaining and varied seasonal show that is bound to produce the unusual each evening and never commonplace.
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And you won’t find more fruitful validation of that union than the live CD recording released last month with highlights from the 2010 season entitled An Irish Christmas: A Musical Solstice with Mick Moloney, Athena Tergis and Special Guests.
There is no time of the year when music plays a more central role in bringing us joy while causing us to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas, and if anyone can capitalize on that, it is the folk music community.
And for the Irish who consider the Christmas season as “heaven on Earth” when it comes to celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas, music always come from the heart and the soul bringing us warmth and hope.
The 15 tracks on the new CD offer a rich tapestry of old and new songs that blend very well in the capable and talented hands of the musicians gathered under Moloney’s baton last year.
Most are recognizable names from the Moloney stable of artists in Athena Tergis (fiddle), Billy McComiskey (accordion), Brendan Dolan (piano), Liz Hanley (violin and vocals), Niall O’Leary (stepdancer) and the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra (WSHSO).
Added to the multicultural palette offering some regional diversity are Appalachian musician Rhys Jones (vocals and violin) and Filipino Grace Nono, two special guests last year whose contributions enhanced an already fine group of musicians.
Moloney’s longtime friendship with the Sands family of Rostrevor, Co. Down yielded a couple of songs from Tommy Sands (“Down Among the Bushes of Jerusalem”) and Colum Sands (“The Buskers”).
Liz Hanley of the WSHSO does a credible job of John McCutheon’s “Christmas in the Trenches” about a WWI Christmas Eve momentary truce from the madness, and later an endearing effort in the “Cherry Tree Carol,” a song that shows Joseph’s humanity.
Louise Sullivan, also of the WSHSO orchestra, is the lead vocalist on the Jackson Browne song “Rebel Jesus” that we first heard him perform with the Chieftains on their Bells of Dublin Christmas recording some years ago.
The young teenager again proves a confident singer working effectively with a gorgeous orchestral arrangement with the band formed a decade ago who released their own CD earlier this year.
It’s my favorite music track on the CD, but there is also a literary high note when Moloney reads New York City native Terry Winch’s poem “Celebration,” an ode to the magic of a Christmas Eve in the Bronx for an Irish Catholic family.
Hardy chestnuts “The Holly and the Ivy,” “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake” and “The Wren Song” all appear on the CD fortified by the wonderful musicians like Tergis, McComiskey and Dolan who help breathe new life into them.
There are three tracks with sets of tunes, one led off by Tergis’ sensitive fiddle rendering of the popular piping tune “Por na bPucai” and the closing tune “Christmas Eve” written by Tommy Coen that demonstrate that this is no ordinary house band but rather the backbone of ensembles like this and the current Green Fields of America.
Seeing as this is the first live CD recording attempted by the Irish Arts Center, they are off on the right track because they created a classic Christmas album that belongs in everyone’s collection.