|Marc Gunn outside Kylemore Abbey in Co. Galway.|
Maybe writing this column for this many years has brought out Scrooge-like tendencies in me, but I really have had my fill of Irish and Celtic-themed Christmas CDs at this point. So when one presents itself for review, it is looked at with a jaundiced, weary eye.
That said, "A Celtic Christmas," which features a mix of traditional and original songs and tunes about Christmas by indie Celtic bands, had visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in my head!
The curator of this collection is Marc Gunn, a musician in his own right who is at the forefront of podcasting. He has been posting a "Celtic Christmas" podcast the last few years to share music with people who he’s come across.
He has rubbed elbows with about 10 other podcasters who he asked for a list of their favorite holiday music. The result is a joyful discovery of your new favorite Christmas tunes that will become the soundtrack to your jolly season for years to come.
“In 2000, I started a Celtic music magazine which then morphed into an email newsletter,” Gunn explains.
“I started out because I wanted to promote my music. Podcasting soon kicked off and I had made some friends along the way in the music business. iTunes really liked it and ended up featuring it to the point that I had 80,000 people downloading it.
“It has grown enormously big and the artists have really flocked to it. I do my best to give back to Celtic and Irish organizations that promote things like Irish festivals, Highland games.”
A "Celtic Christmas" opens with Mithril’s otherworldly “Galician Carol,” a reel dipped in salsa that is homage to the Celtic region of Spain known as Galicia. The band’s unique progressive style has its roots in traditional Celtic music but moves far beyond that, weaving such diverse influences as American folk, classical, and Middle Eastern melodies.
"Mithril is this band from Mobile, AL," Gunn explains. "The minute I heard it I knew they had to be part of the compilation. The Celtic roots in Spain are not well known and there is some amazing music coming from that area."
The exuberance of “Yule Long and Holly Berries” is a revelation, mixing church bells, bagpipes and fiddles that whips into a power chord-driven frenzy that will warm you on the coldest night. It comes courtesy of Rathkeltair, from their album "Something Good for Christmas."
Rathkeltair (pronounce rath-KELT-ur) is one of North America’s premier Celtic rock bands. Based in Jacksonville Beach, FL and touring internationally since 2003, Rathkeltair delivers one of the most energetic, entertaining, audience-friendly shows you will see anywhere.
Bringing together world-class musicians from Ireland, England and here, Rathkeltair is a seasoned group of veteran road warriors with incredible stories to tell.
The best compilations mix old favorites with new friends for you to discover, and "A Celtic Christmas" is no exception.
Tom Morley’s “Cold Frosty Morning,” a highlight of this disc, sports frigid and feisty fiddling to set the appropriate mood. It’s a track borrowed from Morley’s "The Raven’s Wing" disc. Morley is a classical, folk, jazz and swing musician from the Gulf Coast who has become a new favorite on this reviewer’s turntable!
“Raise a glass/sing a song/kiss the lass that is smiling/and be glad that you’re here,” sing the Gleasons on their pub sing-along “Irish Holiday.” The band, which hails from Milwaukee, has created a new Christmas classic with this one!
Ian Byrne and the Elders contribute “Christmas Day” to the mix. They are a legendary live act from Kansas City that routinely packs ‘em in at Irish festivals across the Midwest.
Gunn clearly knows a thing or two about the music scene that exists outside the Big Apple, where bluegrass and Cajun beats mix it up with the traditional Irish fare.
“I’m Scotch-Irish,” Gunn explains. “I didn’t know anything about Celtic music except for Enya and bagpiping. I’m a military brat who grew up in places like Maryland, Hawaii, San Antonio and Italy and picked up my love of my roots along with way.”
So far, Gunn is overjoyed with the reaction of the compilation, which has charted with both Amazon and iTunes.
“I’ve been listening to a lot of music to see what people think of Celtic and Irish Christmas music,” he says.
“Obviously, naming the genre is a marketing term. Most compilations have the piano and harp soft-kind of music, which is nice, but I wanted to go for something more traditional. There are a lot of original songs from unknown bands, but there are plenty of traditional melodies not captured on other compilations that we have here.”
Gunn gets into the action himself with “Christmas in Scotland,” which sees him combine his love of traditional Irish drinking songs with fun, twisted lyrics. It’s like a satirical jam session between the Clancy Brothers and Weird Al Yankovic.
Gunn is part of an acoustic folk duo called Gunns and Drums, and he is hard at work on his new CD, "How Americans Saved Irish Music."
“It’s hard to hear Irish music in Ireland, and you are seeing a lot of Americans falling in love with their culture and keeping the traditions alive over here,” he says when asked to explain the album title.
“And, of course, you have bands like Black 47 that completely transformed the music yet again and have given back Irish culture to the Irish in the process. That’s an interesting trend that I wanted to write about.”
You can hear samples of "A Celtic Christmas" on Gunn’s Irish and Celtic music podcast. It is the largest Celtic podcast in the world and the number one promoter of indie Celtic music. Visit www.celticmusicpodcast.com or www.celticchristmasmusic.net.