Various Artists

Cold Blow These Winter Winds

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Finally, a Christmas album for folk fans who hate Christmas albums. Recorded live in Edinburgh in December 2003, at a charity concert, this brings together the cream of the young Scotland-based folk crop on a mix of traditional and contemporary material. Starting out with a selection of tunes on piano and whistle, then a luminous version of the traditional "Lullay Lullay," the fun really begins with a cover of "Fairytale of New York," which also incorporates a pair of tunes. It might be quite the usual Christmas spirit, but it remains a fabulous song. There are few frills to the arrangements; instead they let the songs and tunes speak for themselves, as on "Bulalow," which works perfectly with just voice, bass, and whistle, and in fact gains more impact from its sparseness. Inevitably, it's the better-known material that hits home, likes a lovely, soaring version of "Little Drummer Boy" that dispenses with most of the vocals to allow border pipes to take the lead, or "Christ Child's Lullaby," which is handled with a gorgeous delicacy, mixing harps and Galician gaita (a type of bagpipe) behind the vocals. Rory McLeod does a great version of John Prine's "Christmas in Prison," while "Blue Christmas" is turned upside down by fiddle and harp, with Tim Matthew's vocal pushing the Elvis version out to nowhere. "Silent Night," with massed voices, raises shivers, and "It's Christmas Time," with a children's vocal from Billie Owens, makes for a charming close, kitsch, but still enough to raise a smile.

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