Album Review: “The Best Of Christmas” by Celtic Woman

I’ve never had a moment where I’ve had three open Thursdays (review days) and three holiday related albums come out at the same time. I figured I’d take advantage of it and review all of them for you as part of my blogmas!

The first one is obviously by the lovely ladies of Celtic Woman. They released this album back in mid-November. If you’ve never heard their versions of Christmas carols, you sort of get a taste in the previous album “Voice Of Angels” as there are two bonus tracks at the end. The rich sounds of Ireland are still prominent with the holiday tone and lyrics. The songs included in this album are sung by previous singers as they have released two other Christmas albums back in 2006 and 2012 along with the current members: Susan, Mairead, Eabha and newest member Tara playing the violin and fiddle.

The first song of the album is “Ding Dong Merrily On High” and this brings out your holiday cheer, even if you still feel like the Grinch has wedged itself in between the depths of your heart, this will make you happy! One of the reasons why I love Celtic Woman so much is because they have such gentle voices, they sound very caring and want you to feel at home and exited for Christmas. The Irish tones are very subdued in this song, but I found that to be okay, because I liked the voices of the singers and choir. Second is “Carol Of The Bells” and this is just gorgeous! Everybody is very familiar of this song, or at least they should be, but I love this version as you more of a modern feel to it, but it has that mysterious atmosphere to it. I love the fiddle in this, I think it adds another element to it than just the choir singing behind it.

Next is “Joy To The World” and this is the 2016 version which features all three current singers, and since I’ve already talked about this one, I’m not going to bother talking about it again. So if you’d like to know what I said about that, you can read my review of their newest album here. We have “We Three Kings” and this one you definitely get a strong Irish sound from start to end. I was very happy to see this style shine, but I will say though, I don’t think I’ve heard of the song itself, just shows you how much Christmas music I normally listen to once December rolls in.  And then, we have “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and we’re back on the familiar track! I’m happy to say that this was as beautiful as I remembered it, as it’s all a cappella in the beginning before the subtle little violin just shows up in the background. It’s so gentle and nice. It’s just perfect.

Another favorite is “O Holy Night” and I’ve come to love these slower songs, with the right singers, they can sound really amazing and add a wow factor to the whole thing. It’s weird that there are three singers when it sounds like one person is singing it. It’s so beautiful! Next we have “White Christmas” and I really love Christmas music that has a strong piano introduction. You can blame my papaw for installing that feature into me and basically every other family member on my mom’s side. The eighth song is “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and it is so pretty, full of symphony and a little of fiddle. I’m pretty sure it is originally on one of their older albums, but that is definitely Susan’s voice I’m hearing! I can recognize her voice anywhere!

We have “I’ll Be Coming Home For Christmas” and everytime I hear it, makes me think about those videos of soldiers surprising their family members. They’re so sweet but of course you can’t help but start bawling your eyes out when everything unfolds on screen, especially if it involves children! This has more of an Irish vibe in the beginning, but I love the slowness of it. It’s so beautiful! I’ll always have a soft spot for “Silent Night” but Celtic Woman’s version incorporates both the English and Gaelic languages and it’s so gorgeous! This was one that they included in “Voice of Angels” album, so if you want to know what I thought of it, please go to the link I’ve put up above. And next we have “The Christmas Song” and I love the piano in the introduction. It had a modern feel, but so gentle. I don’t think I’ve heard of this song before, but like I said, I don’t know a lot of Christmas songs, only everybody’s favorites.

Somehow, we managed to switch out of the gentle and Irish sounding, and move to big band and jazz for “Let It Snow” and it literally freaked me out because I was not expecting it! Of course, the more I listened to it, made me think of New York City and Broadway shows! However, I don’t hate it. It’s actually nice. The next is “Once In Royal David’s City” and this is the third holiday song included on Celtic Woman’s previous album, because I can clearly hear both Mairead and Eahba singing, so again please direct yourself back to the link, if you wish to read my thoughts. Next we have “Away In A Manger” and it starts as a capella with a light harp, which is my second favorite instrument by the way! I also love the guitar, that I always think of a Spanish, because it just brings out that sound that you only hear in latin songs. I’m sorry I don’t know more about it.

 “Winter Wonderland” now at first, I will admit, I didn’t recognize the title. It wasn’t until it started playing and then I finally got it. This has a soft jazz vibe to it. I like the upbeat songs, and apparently the upbeat Christmas songs are becoming a favorite of mine too! Next we have “Walking In The Air” and again, this was another I didn’t know right off the bat, but it is very pretty. It has a very eternal sound in the beginning, which for a Celtic musical group, the music usually has that sound that makes it mysterious but gentle at the same time. Although, this doesn’t sound anything like a regular Christmas or holiday song I’ve heard before, but who am I to say anything about that? It is gorgeous though!

These will be the last four songs of the album. We have “O Come All Ye Faithful” and I like gentleness that the ladies give it. The music behind it is so soft and makes me think of ballets (I know, that’s weird) but it’s true! I don’t necessarily like the hymns very much, but when it comes to the holidays for some odd reason I kind of welcome them with feet wide open!  Next there’s “The Little Drummer Boy” and this is one that I haven’t heard very much, even though it’s a favorite to people. I do like this version with the deep male choir and the soft drums, but unfortunately that’s all I really like about it. I’m very hard to impress sometimes. “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and I know everybody knows this one and I’m happy to say that it is very upbeat but it also has that Irish sound that I fell in love with in the first place. It’s a nice mixture! And lastly we have “Auld Lang Syne” and according to Google, translates to “days/times gone by”. It is Scottish song and that means that you will hear both the English and Gaelic languages, and I love it because I’ve never heard of it before doing this review.

So the first Christmas album is done! I actually figured I’d hear the Irish music being incorporated more, but then again I can’t say I was disappointed with it though. It was a good balance with the more modern, pop feel with some of the Gaelic language in it. It was different and I love it for being that way!

Have you listened to Celtic Woman’s “The Best of Christmas” album yet? What were your thoughts about it? Do you have a favorite holiday song?

snowflake

 

Album Review: “Voices Of Angels” by Celtic Woman

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Back in March, I decided to review my first ever Celtic Woman album, as “Destiny” came out back in November 2015. I knew I was late getting it up but I didn’t care! I love that album so much and did you see it was recently nominated for a Grammy?! All four women sound beautiful and diverse all at the same time. I was really impressed considering I have yet to listen to their previous albums and find my favorite tracks on them!

Now I’m back with their newest release called “Voices Of Angels” and not only does it include the Orchestra of Ireland but it also features their new violinist Tara McNeil, who was featured in their live concert DVD for Destiny, she was the harpist on the right side of the stage. The rest of the lineup is still the same with Susan McFadden, Eabha McMahon and Mairead Carlin, they each have a different tone to bring to the table, but in terms of favorites: Eabha is my favorite mostly because she’s the only alto in the group.

If you have never listened to Celtic Woman album’s, they do a mixture of traditional Irish in their native tongue: Gaelic, comporary, and holiday songs. They will also do multiple versions of the songs, you will find out more about that in this review.

So we’re finally going to start this review, the first track is probably the one song that everybody was iffy about, mostly because the great Celine Dion made this song so big that you wouldn’t think anybody could top it. We’re used to only hearing one person sing this song and here you have three singers pulling together to make a beautiful rendition of the song. It still has the same essence of the original, very soft and emotional! When they all sing together in the choruses, it’s so lovely! Somehow they managed to make this work and it just blows my mind!

The second is “Isle Of Hope, Isle Of Tears” and it is on their album “Songs From The Heart” that came out in 2010. This is so beautiful. I love the sound of the full orchestra for this song. I thought Eabha did a fantastic job! Nothing is too much or too little, everything just meshes well together! Next is “As She Moved Through The Fair” which they had featured in their first album “Celtic Woman” back in 2005, it was also included in the “Emerald” album they released in 2014. I think the reason why they tend to repeat the same songs is because some arrangements might’ve catered to the singer that sang the original version and maybe the other singer might be limited on high or low the notes of the song, like Eabha can’t go too high because her voice is naturally deep. It can be too hard for her to hit a higher pitch of a song or it could be that they wanted to pick songs that will sound lovely with an orchestra! Anyways, I’ve heard the “Emerald” version, have it on my iPod and listen to it constantly. I like this version, it kind of has this exotic vibe throughout with the gongs, it’s very pretty, but, yes I still prefer the other way!

The next is another rendition of a previous song they’ve listed on their album “A New Journey” that came out in 2007. It’s called “Mo Ghile Mear (My Gallant Star)” and yes, it’s another song I’ve listened to and fell in love with after some time. This one is very grand, thanks to the orchestra again! It still sounds like a traditional Irish song. The ladies and choir sing in the chorus in Gaelic but majority of is in English. Surprisingly, I actually prefer this performance instead! The fifth track is a song we all know but mostly hear it in church or Christmas time. It’s “Ave Maria” and this was another featured in the first album. This is sung by Mairead Carlin and I think she did a great job on it!

This next song is an instrumental and you all know how much I love these! It’s called “For The Love Of A Princess” you have the eternal “ah” in the beginning, the orchestra playing and of course the lovely Tara McNeil playing a gorgeous composition. I don’t know if it is a contemporary or Irish song since there are no words included and sixith song is called “Time To Say Goodbye” and it is not featured on their previous albums, so it must be one of the new songs that was said to be included on the album. I have to say Mairead Carlin has really surprised me with her vocals on this album, there a couple of spots where she hits some pretty high notes, it almost sounds operatic! It isn’t until the first verse ends that Susan and Eabha join in and it’s very beautiful when they each hit a different note at the same time and you can clearly hear it. The entire thing is brilliant!

“Dúlamán” is next and this definitely another favorite of mine and it’s featured on “A New Journey”.  I love the soft beginning, it still sounds like the original version but then it opens up with the percussion and male choir, but it’s still very airy that I think the first arrangement kind of misses. As it continues on, it sort of grows and become more epic in a way. I can’t choose between the versions, they’re both great in their own ways, but this is a contender too! Now if “Walk Beside Me” sounds too familiar, it was on the “Destiny” album and Eabha holds the command of the song, as she sang the first version all on her own. I think the only difference between the two is because of the orchestra arrangement. I am conflicted with this one, but it is very enchanting!

Next is “O, America” which is a song that I have not heard and it is on their “Songs From The Heart” album and actually, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this song before hearing it on their rooster, that says a lot for me being American! I do think it’s a very good song. The eleventh track is “A Time For Us” which has a beautiful introduction. This one gives me like a Broadway or just a general play vibe. I think it’s very alluring, as it sounds very fantasy-like between the strings of the orchestra and Mairead’s vocals. It’s interesting! If there is a standard edition of the album, this next song would be the last of it and it is called “Across The World” and it is an instrumental by the lovely Tara again and the orchestra of Ireland. I really, really like all of the strings. I usually love the string section than I do any other part of orchestras. I love the classical sound they give off aganist the celtic violin. It’s very powerful and fun, which to me siginalifies Irish music!

On the deluxe edition, the setlist continues with a 2016 version of “Téir Abhaile Riú” and this is another traditional Irish song that they’ve had on the album “Believe” that came out in 2012. Again, I have not heard that version just the one they shared on their Facebook last month. Since I’ve heard it like this, I may not want to listen to the other one. I actually love this! I didn’t want it to end! The next three songs that are listed on the album are holiday songs. First up is “Joy To The World” which made me very festive all of a sudden. However, when I did this review it was like two days before Thanksgiving so I felt like I was cheating a bit! Anyways, I think holiday songs get better whenever a symphony is involved and I think most people would agree with me. It’s just magnificent of a sound with the ladies and choir! Next is “Silent Night” but instead of it being in English, it’s in Gaelic in the beginning and then it changes back to English. I kind of wished it had stayed in Gaelic the whole time, but I thought it was beautiful to hear such a classic Christmas song to be sung in another language even if I don’t understand it, yet. Last but not least is “Once In Royal David’s City” and this again, I am embarrassed to say I have never heard before, actually I might’ve I just don’t remember it very well. I think it’s lovely though!

I didn’t think there was a way to make the Celtic Woman songs more beautiful, but I guess I was wrong! I think this album as a whole is wonderful! I think it brought some of the fans favorites and brought them into a new light with having the orchestra involved, but let’s face it you add a real symphony to the mix and it’ll be 10x better than what you’re used to hearing on the radio!

Have you listened to “Voices Of Angels” yet? What songs do you like? What are your thoughts of the different variations of the songs that you’ve heard on their previous works?

snowflake

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