Various Artists

Narada Presents: The Best of Celtic Christmas

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Narada Records has a long history of brilliant world music compilations and Christmas samplers, and this enjoyable, joyous yet often poignant gathering of Celtic music's brightest stars adds another beautiful ornament to that evergreen tree. The key to any successful musical smorgasbord is variety, and this celebration of the holidays in Ireland offers that in abundance. Cathie Ryan's folksy "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" opens the disc whimsically, while Kathy Mattea's rich, soulful voice imparts the "Christ Child's Lullabye" with a convincing refrain of "Hallelujah!" and simple, hypnotic guitar accompaniment. Each tune features a different lead instrument or vocal: flute ("Christmastime in Ashland"), a soft, classical-flavored choir ("Nowel"), acoustic guitar and pennywhistle (the festive "The Mummer's Jig/Christmas Eve"), and yet more pennywhistle and small Irish-accented choir ("I Saw Three Ships"). It's not all happy clappy, however. The festive mood is beautifully balanced by sad reflections like Natalie MacMaster's "Get Me Through December," which may remind you that the holidays aren't a joyous affair for those who are suffering. Listeners who find themselves in a funk may just snap out of it after hearing this thoughtful gathering.

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