Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Celtic Celebration (CD)

A Celtic Celebration
Steve Schuch and The Night Heron Consort

With all the holiday music we've been listening to, the time is right to tell you about one of my favorite holiday albums.

This is a CD I've had for about as long as I've had CDs and the music (now MP3s of course) goes into my rotation every year.

It's an instrumental CD with a great style. All the songs have very strong "vocal" lines done on various instruments, like the penny whistle or the fiddle.  The number of instruments used is impressive, and includes a huge amount of unique percussion.  (The liner notes say: Traditional Christmas Songs played on fiddle, whistles, guitar, harp, pipes and more.)  They use the tone of each instrument to bring out different parts of each song.  The verses build upward in most of the tracks, providing an arc sometimes missing when carols are done without words.  It's very effective, and the intricate counterpoints and unique arrangements add an enormous depth to the music.

The style overall has an acoustic, warm feeling.  The tracks are a good mix of quick and gentle tempos, of songs I know and songs I am less familiar with. 

One of my favorite tracks is a energetic medley of Good King Wenceslas and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I also enjoy this Away in a Manger, a song I often dislike, because they break up the simplicity of the main vocal line with a beautiful counterpoint melody.

My favorite track might still be the Twelve Days of Christmas, though.  It's a fantastically original version in which each present is played by a different appropriate sound.  In other words, "geese a'laying" is played by a wind instrument that sounds somewhat like a goose, "maids a'milking" includes actual recordings of cowbells and a cow, and the lead 'vocal' throughout is on a partridge-like whistle.

Check out this great interview about the recording (from the release in 1996, sound is a bit off here and there): http://www.nightheron.com/media/mov/kerrycow.mov  
(Alternate Link: http://www.nightheron.com/video.html )

The whole CD is fantastic.  If you have affection for both Carols and Celtic harmonies, you owe it to yourself to check this out.

Some of the songs from this album are available on Amazon MP3 along with some selections from the sequel album, or the CD is available both on Amazon and on Night Heron Music's own site.

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