Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Celtic Thunder is a singing group composed of six male soloists who perform both solo and ensemble numbers. Their latest album saw them being joined by Neil Byrne, who had played guitar and sang backup on the previous albums. Celtic Thunder debuted in August 2007 atThe Helix in Dublin, Ireland. They are accompanied by the Celtic Concert Orchestra under the direction of Phil Coulter, the musical director of the group.
Since the group's formation, Celtic Thunder has released five albums: Celtic Thunder, Act Two, Take Me Home, It's Entertainment,Christmas as well as three live performances on DVD entitled Celtic Thunder: The Show , Take Me Home, It's Entertainment!, and Christmas In December 2009 Billboard magazine named Celtic Thunder Top World Album Artist. Their first three albums also placed in the Top 10 for World Albums.
Celtic Thunder is known for its eclectic style with songs ranging from a soloist to an ensemble focus. The group is backed by the Celtic Thunder Band on their concert tours, and their live shows are known for the use of dramatic effects via lighting and choreography as well as a stage set resembling an ancient stone pathway suggestive of those referenced in Celtic lore.
In March 2009, Celtic Thunder opened the Saint Patrick's Day Parade in New York City, and later that day performed for President Obama,Mrs. Obama and Taoiseach, Brian Cowen at the White House.
On Nov. 28, 2010, Celtic Thunder member Paul Byrom announced his resignation from the group as to begin a solo career for himself. He will leave the group when the 2010 concert tour is over. Byrom will begin his solo career in the United States, where he has the strongest fan base. Byrom hopes his fan base from Celtic Thunder would carry on into his solo career.
"I first listened to Celtic Thunder in December of 2008. While I found their music enjoyable, I couldn't get too excited about them just then because from Thanksgiving on, I don't want to listen to anything but Christmas music. Anything else, no matter how heartily I might embrace it at any other time of the year, just doesn't quite cut it for me. So while they reeled my dad in hook, line and sinker, it took me a few months to become the raging green Thunderhead I am today. I suspect the process would have been a bit quicker if this album had been out then.
I'm actually a little surprised it took this long. After all, Christmas programs and PBS go together like milk and cookies, and Celtic Thunder, like its all-female predecessor Celtic Woman, has won most of its fans through the specials on PBS. Almost all of my favorite artists have released at least one Christmas album at some time or another, and Celtic Thunder seems tailor-made for this kind of thing. I was particularly looking forward to this album because Christmas 1915, the Christmas song the group recorded for the album Act II, is one of the most stunningly gorgeous songs I've ever heard. I set the bar of expectation pretty high.
Does Celtic Thunder deliver with this album? Well, mostly. I confess myself quite disappointed not to hear a group rendition of O Holy Night; I always list that as my default favorite Christmas song, but I've yet to find what I would consider the "definitive" recording. There's such magic in the harmony between these lads - Scotsman George Donaldson and Irishmen Ryan Kelly, Paul Byrom, Neil Byrne, Keith Harkin and Damian McGinty - that I felt sure their rendition would be a serious contender. Don't expect to hear much traditional Irish music, either; the predominant tone is American-style pop, though there is a breathtaking rendition of Silent Night that's partly in Gaelic. Additionally, while Phil Coulter talks in the liner notes of having a good mix of the secular and sacred, the secular definitely wins out, with only three tracks on this version having any religious content and four not mentioning Christmas at all.
Yes, this version. That's what really has me bugged about this album. At first, the track listing on Amazon included Christmas Morning, Donegal, a magnificent Phil Coulter original sung by Paul Byrom, but then it vanished, and that became a QVC exclusive. I bought the album last month - even though it was twice as expensive, since it came bundled with an album that I already had - because I really wanted that track, which was listed as a bonus, along with the previously released Christmas 1915. Plus it was fun not to have to wait an extra month.
I guess I wasn't paying attention, though, because I was under the impression that that version included everything from the regular album plus two tracks. When it arrived, however, I realized that I was missing two - actually three, but I had the one on another album so I didn't really care. When the regular album came out yesterday, I bought the other two mp3 tracks, and with my promotional dollars there, that set me back a whopping 98 cents. So I didn't end up having to buy the album twice to get all the tracks (although I'm sure I eventually will), but not everybody does mp3s, and anyway, Christmas Morning, Donegal is not available as an mp3; the only way to get that one is to buy the two-CD set from QVC (though you can listen to a live version from the QVC broadcast on YouTube). 'Tis the season to be sharing, so I'm sure all these ardent fans can find someone else who might appreciate the album they already bought two or three years ago, but it's still a little irksome. Also, if you play the QVC CD on your computer, prepare for confusion because the track list on the computer is completely different from the actual order of songs, with only one song actually matching up with its title.
Rant over. Moving on. Aside from my frustration with the "bonus tracks" business and mild disappointment regarding some of the song choices, I still think Celtic Thunder Christmasis a great album, and if you do manage to do get all of the available tracks, each member has two solo songs, and three tracks are ensemble efforts. That's 15 Celtic Thunder songs to fill the house with cheer this Christmas and for many years to come.
It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas - It's nice that Neil, the newest member of the group, gets to start this album off. Of the six singers, he has the most purely poppish voice; whenever I hear one of his solos I flash back to my high school days and the Backstreet Boys or 'NSync. His smooth delivery and the cheerful piano, violins and jazzy percussion get things off to a festive start on this Christmas classic. It's a pretty straightforward and standard version, but very enjoyable. "A pair of hop-along boots and a pistol that shoots is the wish of Barney and Ben. Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk is the hope of Janice and Jen. And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again!"
Winter Wonderland - On to another seasonal favorite, one that revels in the beauty of the snow rather than the trappings of the holiday. Damian gets this one, whose accompaniment is pretty similar to the first track. Damian is quite the teen heartthrob, and while this song isn't that overtly romantic, his delivery suggests a puppy love kind of reading. His surprisingly deep voice is on full display in this sprightly track. "We'll frolic and play the Eskimo way, walkin' in a winter wonderland."
Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow - Drums, finger snaps and piano give this smokin' little number a jazzy flavor. Ryan has a seductive tone to his voice that seems aimed at making hearts flutter; all of the songs he, Damian and Keith sing solo have a romantic flavor to them. His whispery repetition of "Let it snow" at the end of the song is particularly memorable. "It doesn't show signs of stoppin', and I bought me some corn for poppin'. The lights are turned way down low. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."
Last Christmas - I admit I groaned when I heard that this song would be on the album. There are very few Christmas songs I find more annoying. I suppose I'm supposed to feel sorry for the speaker, but I just find him whiny and full of contradictions. "If you kiss me now, you'll fool me again." "This year, to save me from tears, I'll give it to someone special." Are you over her or not? Make up your mind already. And I'm not big on such a bitter attitude pervading a Christmas song. I'm okay with melancholy, but this guy's just caustic and pathetic. That said, Keith's version annoys me less than most, partly because he engages in his usual vocal acrobatics, making me occasionally forget which song I'm listening to. Definitely one of the album's poppiest tracks, it's one of three not on the QVC album.
Silent Night - Finally we arrive at our first ensemble song, and it's a doozy. Probably my favorite new song on this album, it's features understated piano backing and subtle percussion along with a choral counterpoint of part of the group singing "Hallelujah, hallelu..." As always, it's fun to try to pick out who's singing what. It's easy during the second verse, which is sung entirely English and doesn't include the choral backing; first it's Neil, then George, then Paul. But it's harder to determine during the more harmonic first verse, which is entirely in Gaelic and often features more than one singer at once.
Damian starts things off, and I'm pretty sure Ryan is next, and theirs are the main voices I hear for the remainder of the verse. Meanwhile, in the final verse, sung in English, everyone sings together, though certain voices are more prominent at particular times, particularly Paul's during "son of God, love's pure light". The addition of guitar also serves to give this final portion a fuller sound. Most of y favorite artists, from John Denver to Simon and Garfunkel, have covered this song, and this version stands among my favorite renditions. A truly beautiful track.
Going Home for Christmas - This first song on the album written by Phil Coulter includes a march-like drum beat and violins that sound like swirling winter winds, and the title is reminiscent of one of Scotland's most famous folksongs. George is the only family man in the group and the one upon whom the months away from home seem to take the greatest toll. That's not to say that he is any less gracious to fans or enthusiastic in performances than the rest, but it's plain from his updates on Twitter that his wife and daughter are always on his heart and mind. This song, then, is tailor-made for him, as he basks in the wonder of some of the glorious sights that greet him on tour but thinks longingly of a return to those he loves so deeply. Definitely one of my favorite tracks - and one of three that is not included in the QVC edition. "Though my home is plain and simple, it's the place where I was born, and Bleecker Street just can't compete. It's Christmas, and I'm going home."
When You Wish Upon a Star - Neil does a lovely job with this keyboard-backed Pinocchio lullaby that is synonymous with Disney. It's not on the QVC album either, and I heard conflicting reports as to whether it would be on this one. The thing of it is that it's a rehash, just lifted from It's Entertainment. Hence, it feels like a bit of an afterthought, a response to people complaining that Neil was the only member of the group who didn't have two solo tracks between the two albums. While the song fits in well enough with the album, it certainly isn't one that I have traditionally associated with Christmas, and I can't help feeling that Neil kinda got the short end of the stick here by only getting one new song. "Fate is kind. She brings to those who love the sweet fulfillment of your secret longing."
Our First Christmas Together - Damian sounds like he's having a blast on this peppy number that allows him to go into full-on Rat Pack mode, a style that suits him especially well. Another Coulter original, it features chipper piano backing and rhythmic jingle bells, along with occasional contributions from back-up vocalists. The tone is cheerful and a bit flirty, especially the way he sort of hisses the word "just" in the phrase "just you and me". As a nod to the omnipresent jingle bells, we hear a brief instrumental quote of the song just before the track concludes. "With those jingle bells ringin' as I'm holding you near, I'll be making a toast, 'May tonight be the most unforgettable night of the year!'"
Christmas 1915 - This song left me open-mouthed when I first heard it. The group harmonies are magnificent in this devastating song about the Christmas Truce of 1915. For the most part, individual singers switch off on the verses, while the choruses feature them in harmony. The simple guitar backing emphasizes the sparse nature of the celebration as German and English soldiers exchange pleasantries and appreciate the beauty of Silent Night together, then resume their hostilities the next day. First inspirational, then tragic, but ending on a note of hope, it's probably still my favorite of their Christmas songs, so I'm glad they chose to include it, though I feel a little sorry for Neil being shut out of this one. I had thought they might re-record it with him included, but the original sounds so perfect as it is, so I can understand why they didn't. (At the time the QVC album came out, this was listed as a "bonus" for that version; I wonder when the decision was made to add it to this edition?) "1915 on Christmas Day. On the Western Front the guns all died away, and lying in the mud and bags of sand, we heard a German sing from No Man's Land..."
Baby, It's Cold Outside - I get that Ryan makes girls go all weak in the knees. He has that effect on me as well. But was it really necessary for both of his tracks on the album to be sultry numbers that have nothing to do with Christmas? As good as Ryan is at slipping into the role of roguish romancer, I prefer his more profound songs, like Desperado and Brothers in Arms, and I can only imagine the depth of sincerity in his voice were he to cover a time-honored carol. I wish his song selection had been a little more balanced, but then as I said, Keith and Damian are pretty much in the same boat.
The only difference is that Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow and Baby, It's Cold Outside are practically the same song, except in the first one the gal doesn't need any convincing to extend their time together. They're all about spending a cozy night snuggling indoors while a blizzard rages outside. This one is a duet with Charley Bird, who has a song to herself on It's Entertainment; I presume that the album lists her in the credits somewhere, but the QVC version doesn't, and if I were her, I'd be feeling a little bit dissed. More jazzy piano and percussion, with violins adding a touch of smoothness, and Ryan's voice sounds smokier than usual as he and Charley switch off. They sound great together, and there's a definite flirtatious chemistry there that works well. It's a solid track, and I love the way it allows Ryan to showcase his theatricality; I just really would've loved to hear him do something a little more on the reflective side. "There's bound to be talk tomorrow - // Think of my lifelong sorrow - // At least there will be plenty implied. // If you caught pneumonia and died..."
All I Want for Christmas Is You - Keith takes on powerhouse Mariah Carey with this jingle bell-filled song that, like Keith's other track, is pure pop. It makes sense that he would do a Carey number, since he so often seems to emulate her vocally acrobatic style. While there's a mild sense of uncertainty about whether the speaker's Christmas wish will be granted, his pleading comes across as sweetness rather than the neediness of Last Christmas, especially since the main impression I get is that he pretty much already has her. Keith doesn't try to out-sing the original here, but he puts his own stamp on the song, and it's a fun one to listen to. "And I won't make a list and send it to the North Pole for St. Nick. I won't even stay awake to hear those magic reindeers click."
Ave Maria - Naturally, Paul is given something majestic and operatic. Aside from the ensemble songs, Paul carries the entire religious weight of the album with this piano-backed Latin tribute to Christ's mother Mary. I'm not too up my Latin, but four years of Catholic high school means I have a pretty good handle on the "Hail Mary," so I've got the gist of this, and it truly is a transcendent performance. Solemn and perfectly controlled, it's another favorite. "Ave Maria, gratia plena..."
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day - This is the only non-Coulter song on the album that I hadn't heard before. I love the spirit George brings to this exuberant ditty. Some of the lyrics are a bit silly, and the key seems a little high for him, but I still get a kick out of this song exulting in fun-filled Christmas festivities, and I love the bells that chime in once in a while to augment the piano and backing chorus. "When we're skating in the park, if the snow cloud makes it dark, then your rosy cheek's gonna light my merry way..."
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year / We Wish You a Merry Christmas - Neil gets the first verse of this lively medley to himself, which is a nice way to bring the new guy into the forefront at the end of the album. The group performs the second verse, and the bridge alternates between individuals and the ensemble, which also does the third verse, with the exception of a single line that Paul sings. We Wish You a Merry Christmas is mostly a group effort, with Damian and George going solo on "Good tidings we bring to you and your king." Pretty sure it's supposed to be "kin," but I'll let it slide... Anyway, they do a great job with it. The guys performed this song several times on QVC, and it seems to be their signature song for the album. It feels as though they are directly inviting their fans to enjoy the season and wishing them happiness as the year concludes. Very upbeat and plenty of opportunity for harmonizing, and its message makes it a perfect album closer. "There'll be much mistletoe-ing, and hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near. It's the most wonderful time of the year!"
Christmas Morning, Donegal - This is the one track you're missing out on if you only buy the regular edition of the album. The maddening thing is, it's arguably the best new song of the bunch. Another Coulter original, this Paul solo has a mysterious edge to it, starting quietly in a minor tone with the piano delicately falling like snowflakes alongside gentle chimes and understated violin. An unnamed, celestial-sounding boys' choir soon chimes in with a snippet of Adeste Fideles, and during the second verse, an Irish whistle adds a much-appreciated Celtic touch to this song about recalling a magical childhood memory. As the song ends, bells ring out boisterously and the power of Paul's voice is on full display as he pole-vaults his way through those last high notes. An exquisite recording. "I heard the Christmas story there, felt the power and the glory there, that Christmas morning in Donegal."
This song is so outstanding that it really seems a shame not to order the QVC edition, even though it's twice as expensive, especially once you factor in shipping, whereas I always time my Amazon purchases so that I can get two things at once and avoid shipping charges. Yes, you're getting twice the music, and if you're a new fan, then I'd definitely say go for it. If you're an established fan, I really doubt you'll want to miss out on this song, so I still recommend buying it, but you may grumble a bit about having to get it as a package deal, and be aware, as I was not, that three tracks are missing.
Right now, the regular edition of Celtic Thunder Christmas is selling for about $12 in most places, which isn't bad for 14 tracks. It's a little frustrating that the sound of the album is so overwhelmingly poppish, with Silent Night and maybe Going Home for Christmas the only tracks with a Celtic flavor, and this is the only Celtic Thunder album thus far not to include a purely instrumental track. I call foul on the misleading marketing for the QVC edition, and I think it's really crummy that Paul's second solo was yanked from the regular album to be an "exclusive," though I'm intrigued by the murmurs I'm hearing that it's a QVC exclusive "for at least a year". That suggests to me that there will be a second Christmas album and that Christmas Morning, Donegal will be on it. If that is indeed the case, you might want to just get the regular version and hold off until then. I'm hoping that if there is a second Christmas album, it will have more songs like that and fewer like Last Christmas, but until then, Celtic Thunder Christmas is an album that will be getting a lot of play around my house." -Epinions
"Well, it's that time of year when I begin to break out the Christmas music and get ready for the holidays. My family knows that I officially begin listening to Christmas music on November 1st after we have gotten thru the Halloween festivities. However, because I sing in the church choir we usually begin practicing for our Christmas cantata during late September or early October. I already have all but one song memorized in our Christmas program.
If you have read any of my music reviews you probably know that I love the men's group from Ireland and Scotland called Celtic Thunder. I have all the CDs and DVDs they have released to date and my best friend even took me to their concert last spring when they were in Columbia.
A few months ago one of the members, it was either Ryan or Damian, sent me a message on Twitter telling me they were releasing a Christmas album this year. It would be their first holiday CD as a group but Ryan had already released a Christmas CD back home but it wasn't made available in the U.S. Well, when I got this message I headed over toAmazon.com and pre-ordered the CD. My best friend also had me pre-order her daughters the CD. The CDs arrived about 2 weeks ago and I tried my best to hold off listening to it but finally caved in today and listened to it twice while sitting in the study.
The Celtic Thunder Christmas has a lot of traditional songs on it. There were a couple that sounded new to me but I'm sure others have heard them. The following songs are on the CD. Because Celtic Thundermakes it a point to highlight the individual members as well as the group; I have put the performers names in parentheses so you can see when someone did a solo versus the group performing together.
The group Celtic Thunder consist of five guys: Paul Byron, George Donaldson, Keith Harkin, Ryan Kelly, and Damian McGinty. Neil Byrne has been spotlighted on a few songs since the last CD: It's Entertainment was released last year. Neil is not actually part of the ensemble. He is one of the drummers and guitarists but has proven himself as an awesome singer as well.
Usually with the albums you can pick out the individual's style and know why a specific song was chosen for him to perform. Ryan is the heartbreaker, Damian, the teen hearthrob, Paul the crooner, Donald the balladeer, and Keith the young adult who sometimes gets the girl. But for the Christmas album you didn't see the rhyme or reason for who got to sing what. You just get to hear some beautiful holiday music with an Irish accent.
All the other CDs have also had DVDs to accompany them and all the songs have been part of Celtic Thunder's concert lineup at some point or other but I don't foresee Celtic Thunderreleasing a DVD of their Christmas album so I will only have to imagine them performing these holiday songs.
If you know someone who loves Christmas music and/or Celtic Thunder then I would recommend you get this CD for them. I purchased mine at amazon.com for $11.99 and got free shipping because my order totaled more than $25. The shipping charges are normally $2.98 per CD. Best Buy also carries some of the Celtic Thunder music and I have seen some the older stuff at Walmart but your best bet for buying the most current is thru Amazon.com or directly from CeltichThunder.com" -ViewPoints
Composer: Phil Coulter.
Personnel: Neil Byrne, Ivan Gilliland (guitar); Seana Davey (harp); Brendan Monaghan (whistle); Dave Cooke, Phil Coulter (keyboards); Conor McCreanor (double bass, bass guitar); Declan O'Donoghue (drums, percussion).
Liner Note Author: Phil Coulter.
Recording information: Amberville Studios, County Antrim (04/2010-05/2010).
Creator: Sharon Brown.
Arrangers: Dave Cooke; Phil Coulter.
Irish vocal pop sextet Celtic Thunder (Damien McGinty, Keith Harkin, Ryan Kelly, Paul Byrom, George Donaldson, and Neil Byrne) traded in the slick, pop/rock covers of 2009's Take Me Home for slick yuletide cheer on 2010's cleverly titled Celtic Thunder Christmas. The collection is well stocked with warm, familiar holiday jams like "It's Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas," "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow," "Winter Wonderland," and "Silent Night," along with a pair of Phil Coulter originals ("Our First Christmas Together" and "Christmas Morning Donegal"), and the Christmas truce ballad "Christmas 1915," the latter of which appeared on 2008's Act Two. ~ James Christopher Monger