Travel in winter: that might mean a drive through the winding back roads of Ireland, a time in the bustling cities of Asia, visits to summertime in New Zealand or a festival in Mexico. Perhaps it is holiday markets in Scotland or Germany or France that have your winter travel attention. Maybe it is a trip to the old home place or another sort of journey to visit friends and family — or maybe they re all driving up to your home. Perhaps a quiet walk in the woods or around the block will find its place in your holiday travels, and perhaps there will be travels in imagination, dreams, and memory. Wherever and however your travels take you in winter, music is always a fine companion along the road.
If those back roads of Ireland have your imagination or presence this winter, Narada Presents: The Best of Celtic Christmas makes a fine soundtrack for the stories and landscapes you will encounter. Even if Christmas music is not high on your list, you will find much to enjoy and connect with on this two disc set. One disc is entirely the music of the west of Ireland based group Dordan. The women of the group bring backgrounds (and flourishing careers) in both classical nd traditional music to their collaboration. They rarely tour outside Ireland, so this is a great chance to hear their music. They offer jigs, reels, airs, and songs which contain the quiet, hushed spirit of anticipation and the joys of celebration and fellowship of the season.
The other disc of the set comprises song and tune from top artists in Celtic music from Ireland, North America, France, and Scotland, with music that takes in many styles and ideas of the season. Among those: bluegrass singer Alison Krauss and Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster join up for a take on a song of sadness, resignation, and hope called Get Me Through December. There’s a medieval piece from a choir from Brittany in the Celtic part of France. Altan, from Donegal, brings in an instrumental aspect with the jig Snowy Path. Irish American Cathie Ryan offers a spare yet joyful take on the carol It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. Fiddle player Bonnie Rideout’s exuberant offering of Auld Lang Syne closes out the collection.
Speaking of bluegrass, singer and songwriter Claire Lynch has won many awards in that field of music. She loves the style, which she grew up with in northern Alabama, but throughout her work she has considered the high lonesome sound a beginning rather than a limit for the ways she uses her warm and welcoming voice and flair for just the right phrasing, proving that she is as gifted with folk, country, swing, and maybe a few other musical twists as she is with bluegrass. The same adventurous yet grounded in tradition spirit holds true with the album Holiday! as Lynch and her band mates turn their talents to music of the winter season. They have fun with traditional music and newer material as well, including such classics as Scarlet Ribbons and and the recently composed song Snow Day, with band member Bryan McDowell taking lead, and In the Window, a traditional song for Hanukah with bassist Mark Schatz stepping out to sing. It’s a safe bet that Lynch and her band mates will soon have you joining in their holiday spirit.
If you are thinking you’d like something a tad less focused on Christmas, then Sarah-Jane Summers and Juhani Silvola have the recording for you. She’s from the Highlands of Scotland, he’s from Finland, and they live now in Norway, so they know about winter. Fiddle player Summers and guitarist Silvola each have many musical collaborations to their credit but their self titled album Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola is the first recording in which they have focused in their work as a duo. A fine focus it is, too, moving among traditional material and newer pieces of their own devising. It is not an album aimed at a winter theme, but this take on joy, sorrow, love, collaboration, story, and celebration told through sounds of fiddle and guitar fits in well with the journey and imagination of the winter traveler.
Another album that will travel along well with you is Fine Winter’s Night from Matt and Shannon Heaton. He plays guitar, bouzouki, and bodhran, she plays flutes, whistles and accordion, they both sing and write songs, and they make music where Ireland’s traditions and those of North America intersect The title track of Fine Winter’s Night, written by Shannon, takes in the idea of cold clear nights and dark skies outside moving toward warmth and welcome indoors, and taking in the joys and contrasts of both. There’s the Wexford Carol, from medieval Ireland, and First Dust of Snow, a lively piece of instrumental music written for this collection. You’ll also meet a Christmas cat, a fisherman or two, a Victorian father, his daughter, and a guest at their door, birds singing carols, and more as the Heatons trade lead and harmony singing and fine music for a winter journey, whether that is bringing you down the road or to the fireside.
Photograph by Kerry Dexter
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