Celtic Thunder released their debut DVD entitled "The Show," 100 minutes of music. An accompanying CD, "Celtic Thunder," was released simultaneously but, due to the length of the original DVD, only included about half of the music from the original DVD. Six months later, Celtic Thunder released the Act II CD, which rounded that out, with a couple of "bonus songs" thrown in.
As is typical with Celtic Thunder, ensemble songs take the cake on Act II. Heartland- Extended Version is actually a repeat from the first "Celtic Thunder" CD, but includes the extended concert introduction. This includes a spoken introduction from Phil Coulter, which is is appropriately mysterious, and a beautifully sung haunting intro from Ryan Kelly. The remainder of the song is an exact copy of the original but is absolutely worth the repeat. Heartland is powerful and exciting, with great harmonies and embodies perfectly what makes Celtic Thunder a talented musical group. Equally representative of Celtic Thunder's strengths is Caledonia. This much-loved ensemble piece features enjoyable solos contrasted against strong harmonies and vocal power. The whistles and bagpipes in the instrumentals lend a distinct Celtic feel.
Danny Boy has never been a favorite song for me historically; however, this version is an exceptionally beautifully arrangement, featuring each performer in turn and is rounded out with gorgeous well-balanced harmonies. Christmas 1915 was originally a bonus song on the Celtic Thunder DVD, but was only available on DVDs purchased through PBS stations. The audio to this song was added to Act II as a bonus song and is a beautiful addition. This ensemble features some of the most beautiful Celtic Thunder harmonies written thus far and is definitely not to be missed. Rounding out the ensemble highlights, Raggle Taggle Gypsy entertains with very snappy rhythms and features a great drum battle at the end.
Equally worth the price, a collection of solo songs fill out the remainder of the CD with some important highlights. Castles in the Air is a classic Keith Harkin song, beautifully played and performed. Yesterday's Men is a great first exposure to George Donaldson singing something other than a lyrical ballad and is infused with great emotion. Bird Without Wings is a very sweet ballad that combines the sweetness of Damian McGinty's youth with George's maturity. Heartbreaker is a signature Ryan Kelly song and full of punch. His flirty expressions come through perfectly in the phrasing and is a great song with a great performance. The only duet on the CD, That's A Woman contrasts Paul Byrom's romantic leading man with Ryan's quickly articulated rogue and is a fun theatrical bit.
Ride On is smoky and husky, but later improved with subsequent performances. My Boy is a strong ballad, though not exactly the most uplifting song. Love Thee Dearest is a beautiful haunting song and Paul performs it well, however you really don't get a sense of the purity of Paul's voice in the CD recording. Keith croons out Wanna Know What Love Is, an 80s ballad. If you've read any of my previous Celtic Thunder reviews, you'll note that Keith's 80s ballad covers are never my favorite. This one started that trend. Mull of Kintyre is an ensemble ballad that doesn't really get a lot of play in tours. It's probably not their strongest song in terms of harmonies, but it's still a nice tune.
Act II is a strong CD. Combined with the original Celtic Thunder CD, they are the two that I would recommend the most highly to a new fan as important to have in their collection. It's full of good songs, strong solos and beautiful ensembles. The only thing missing, which I didn't notice until right this very moment, is that it seems to lack an instrumental piece. Other than that, perfect.
If it isn't already a part of your collection, go out and snap it up!