Drive the Cold Winter Away

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At a time when Horslips were rapidly drifting away from their quasi-traditional Irish roots, they unexpectedly delivered this gift-wrapped gem. With the exception of Barry Devlin's electric bass and John Fean's occasional contemporary guitar stylings, this is a solid traditional Irish album and certainly the most autochthonous recording by Horslips. All 13 of the selections are of Irish origin, among them three Turlough O'Carolan tunes including the sprightly "Sir Festus Burke" (it is unclear whether it was ever intended as a Christmas song). It unfolds into a Celtic "wall of sound" featuring Jim Lockhart's harpsichord, with banjo, flute, fiddle and guitar gradually joining in the round. "Thompson's/Cottage in the Grove" is a pair of reels that progress in much the same fashion. This time, the concertina of Charles O'Connor is followed by banjo, piano, whistle, bodhran and bones. The nearest this record gets to familiar holiday carol territory is found in a passage from the hornpipe "Piper in the Meadow Straying," which bears a calculated resemblance to "Don we now our gay apparel" from "Deck the Halls." This was a surprising and risky recording for a mid-'70s rock band, but it definitely rejuvenated them and paved the way for their 1976 tour de force Book of Invasions: A Celtic Symphony.

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