Some Christmas CD cheer - Ashley Davis, Damien Dempsey and more

Celtic Woman
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which must mean a fresh new assortment of Irish holiday music is heading for your stockings (as long as you’re not deserving a fresh delivery of coal)!

The lasses from Celtic Woman have recorded a new collection of holiday goodies called Home for Christmas. After selling over six million albums there is little incentive to change the formula, and there is little in the way of artistic growth from A Christmas Celebration, their last holiday collection, that was released in 2006.

Of course, going to Celtic Woman for culture is like going for a meal at Olive Garden when you’re strolling through Little Italy, yet there is something heartwarming about how the voices of Chloë Agnew, Lisa Lambe and Méav Ní Mhaolchatha coalesce with the violin stylings of Máiréad Nesbitt to warm the heart.

The lasses will be taking a break from their Celtic Christmas Symphony tour to perform songs from Home for Christmas on QVC on December 5 at noon.  They will offer an exclusive bundle of their holiday album with a special six-track bonus CD.

If your record collection won’t be complete without yet another version of “Winter Wonderland,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and the Christmas classic “Silent Night,” then this is the collection for you!

Ashley Davis
If you’re looking for a Celtic woman that is less airbrushed and more earthy, Ashley Davis is your girl.  She has a great disc called Songs of the Celtic Winter.

“Lean into me gently/So I might remember/How this dance felt love/Until next our next winter,” Davis sings on “Winter Jig,” and truer words were never spoken.

I was high on this album when I reviewed it earlier this year and forgot about it until I was unpacking the Christmas decorations from the attic and found it in a box. I’ve been playing it around the house ever since.

Davis made it a point to emphasize that this was not a Christmas album when I spoke with her upon the album’s release, which explains why there are no overt references to Santa or his suit.

There are, however, plenty of chilled imagery in her beautiful poetry, which is set atop a warm blanket of Celtic harp, acoustic instruments and brushed percussion.

“Winter is the time of the year when nature takes her rest and we have our shortest days,” she explained during our interview on the album release. “I tried to bring this sense of quiet with the anticipation of rebirth on the horizon to this album.

“Certainly in many of the Celtic regions there were areas that were quite isolated once winter set in and the nights grew longer. This is when the stories and songs of the Celtic culture became a necessity to pass these dark times. Many long nights were spent around the fire with the promise of spring around the corner.”
For more information on Ashley Davis, visit www.daisyrings.com.  Davis lends her song “Nollaig Moon” to Together For Christmas: A Contemporary Celtic Christmas Collection, a compilation assembled by promoter Anita Daly.

Daly has worked with everyone from the Pogues to Black 47 and opened her little black book to create an unparalleled look at contemporary Celtic sounds.

If your tastes veer toward the traditional, you will delight at the sounds of the “Deck the Halls” Christmas melody from Joanie Madden and Cherish the Ladies.  The Celtic Tenors offer a spine-tingling read of “Silent Night,” while tough guy Damien Dempsey offers a surprisingly touching rendition of “Oh, Holy Night.”

The voices of Irish women are well represented here with the neo-operatic Emma Kate Tobia covering the song “Walking in the Air,” from the movie The Snowman. Born in Scotland, Tobia is a classically trained soprano who melds her pure lyrical voice with the timeless melodies of her Irish heritage.

Her debut CD is Aisling na nGael (An Irish Dream). The CD is a combination of classical and traditional tunes sung “as Gaeilge” or in Gaelic.

You even have a sparkling rendition of “Fairytale of New York” – our generation’s, “White Christmas”  after a wicked hangover in the drunk tank– performed by Tobia and George Murphy, an Irish musician who hails from the north Dublin suburb of Beaumont.

Murphy had never performed as a singer before his audition and subsequent rise to fame on the Irish TV show You’re a Star, chosen as a stand out by Irish composer Phil Coulter. He is definitely one of those young voices you want to be paying attention to as the years go on--he has that X factor!

Dave Browne’s Temple Bar Band pulls no punches on their cover of the Pretenders “2000 Miles,” adding an Irish choir and a fury of flutes and fiddles for some Dublin-esque trimmings to this modern rock classic.

Ashley Davis joins Black 47’s Larry Kirwan for a John Lennon remake.

“I can’t even remember why I recorded John Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’ – probably to protest the Iraq invasion,” Kirwan explains.

“Well, thankfully, that war is history, but the song and its treatment add a little something different to a Christmas collection.”

Daly’s collection is so much more than a run-through of shopworn classics. It is a showcase for new voices with new things to say about the holidays. 

It has arrived in one magnificent, eclectic bundle, showcasing the many sides of Celtic music. Celtic rock is represented with the first tune, “Christmas Day” by the Elders, along with Kyf Brewer of Barleyjuice singing his original “Whiskey for Christmas.”

“I like the ringing bells and the spirits as well as any Christian can/my love says she’s given up whiskey for Christmas/my favorite thing about whiskey for Christmas is finding someone to give it away,” sneers Brewer over a slippery burlesque arrangement with fiddling accoutrements. It calls to mind the quirky pop of mid-1960s Kinks, delivered by a Barleyjuice-dipped deviled egg!

Tara O’Grady ends the collection on a jazzy note, with a flirty fiddle dancing with her during a sultry read of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

I’ve come to know Tara in my association with the Irish American Writers and Artists group, and she is a tour de force of talent.

Daly is hosting a CD launch party at Connolly's Klub 45 (121 West 45th Street, New York), on Thursday, December 13.

Doors open 8:30 p.m., with $20 admission at the door going to  benefit Hurricane Sandy relief. Visit
www.togetherforchristmas.com/about.html. The CD is available on iTunes and directly on the album’s website.

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