Composer: Phil Coulter.
Personnel: Neil Byrne, Ivan Gilliland (guitar); 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, Cunty Antrim (04/2010/05/2010).
Creator: Sharon Browne.
Vocalist: Emmet Cahill.
Arrangers: Dave Cooke; Phil Coulter.
After drenching themselves in pop music for It's Entertainment! and the seasonal Celtic Thunder Christmas album in 2010, Celtic Thunder return to their own brand of shiny new age Celtic-flavored music with Heritage. During the sessions for the album, one of the quintet's original vocalists, Paul Byrom, left the group and was replaced by Emmet Cahill -- though both appear here. The material on Heritage is a mix of traditional tunes, Phil Coulter originals, covers, and even a revisit of "Come by the Hills" from the group's debut album -- sung here in a Gaelic version, "Buachaill ón Eirne," and in a very different voice by Damian McGinty (he was only 14 when he sang it the first time). Ryan Kelly leads an unusually uptempo and rock-tinged version of "Black Is the Color," and Keith Harkin and Neil Byrne duet on the electric guitar-saturated "Whiskey in the Jar" (inspired no doubt by, but not holding a candle to, Thin Lizzy's definitive version). Byrom is present in a very sentimental "My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose," accompanied by Coulter's piano before the rest of the musicians and orchestra kick in. "Home from the Sea," a Coulter-penned tune, showcases the entire quintet (with Byrom) in chorus-line solidarity. Cahill's showcase is on "Kindred Spirits," a harp-driven folkish ballad written especially for him by Coulter. His theater singer's tenor works seamlessly inside this group's silky voices. "Gold & Silver Days" is another Coulter number that evokes all the archetypal Irish images of the days of yore; it's sung effectively and nostalgically by Kelly and George Donaldson. The strangest moment here is the adaptation of Steve Earle's rough-and-tumble "The Galway Girl," which melded Texas honky tonk and Celtic melody; here it is strictly an irish drinking song with whistles, fiddles, bodhran, and kit drums sung in chorus by the quintet (with Cahill). It's a wild transformation that anyone who's heard Earle's version will never be comfortable with. That said, given that most of Celtic Thunder's audience has probably never heard of the songwriter, it will please them to no end. For those fans of the Celtic Thunder song-and-dance stage show and the group's pre-pop recordings, this is no doubt a welcome return to form. ~ Thom Jurek