I posted this review on the Sputnik Music website last night.
OK, I'm totally lying. Celtic Woman is neither Finnish nor a death metal band. In fact, they're an all-female Irish music ensemble, consisting of 3-4 singers and an Irish fiddler, backed by an orchestra, a choir, and a small collection of supporting musicians, created largely by David Downes, a former musical director of the show Riverdance. They specialize in mellow arrangements of mostly non-original material, and operate somewhere in the pop/classical/Irish-and-Scottish-ethnic music range. They're more popular in the U.S. than in their native Ireland, largely due to the backing of public broadcasting television stations throughout the country. In addition to their Irish pop LPs, they've also put out a series of albums of Christmas and holiday music. The Best of Christmas is a compilation album that draws from several of these.
While Celtic Woman has had a number of different lineups over the years, The Best of Christmas pulls its tracks from three of these: The original lineup, which featured singers Chloe Agnoe, Orla Fallon, Lisa Kelly and Maev Ni Mhaolchatha as well as fiddler Maireed Nesbitt; A 2012 lineup consisting of Agnew, Mhaolchatha and Nesbitt, plus vocalist Lisa Lambe; and the current group, which includes singers Susan McFadden, Maired Carlin, Eabha McMahon and new fiddler Tara McNeill. The LP consists mostly of holiday classics, with one exception, which I'll get to in a moment.
There's certainly nothing cutting edge here. This is an album for people who love time-honored Christmas songs that showcase beautiful female vocals with a slight Celtic flair. There are twenty tracks here in all, and most are the kind of songs you'd expect -- "Joy to the World", "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", "I'll Be Home for Christmas", etc. The only two unexpected numbers present are "Once in Royal David's City" by the modern lineup, and Chloe Agnew's ethereal version of "Walking in the Air" from the 1982 animated film The Snowman, culled from the first Celtic Woman (2005) album.
Other than these two less familiar tracks, the other highlights here include the original lineup's renditions of "Oh Holy Night" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", Orla Fallon's stark version of "Away in a Manger", and the 2016 version of "Silent Night" (drawn from last year's Voices of Angels LP). The album ends with a gentle and wistful version of "Auld Lang Syne" as sung by Lisa Lambe.
This is probably not going to be a popular album with many of the regular Sputnik Music website users. It's about as far from metal (and other popular Sputnik genres) as you can get. But if you're something of a traditionalist, and you're looking for a non-obtrusive Christmas album focused on exquisite female vocals to get you through your holiday season, this will more than do the trick.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars