Celtic Thunder recently released Christmas Voices, their second Christmas album, and this one is a beauty. I was never the biggest fan of CT's first Christmas album, always finding it a bit too heavy on fluff for me. But, this one is much more to my liking.
Christmas Voices is quite a bit more serious in nature, trading the safer winter wonderland songs for music that centers around the worshipful side of Christmas. The music is beautiful, but as fair warning, if you are someone who prefers to approach the season of Christmas outside of its religious framework, this might not be the album for you. Coming from a much less liturgical background, I found a few songs on the album that I was completely unfamiliar with -- which I found quite nice to be exposed to beautiful hymns that I didn't know.
Designed to be performed next year on a symphonic Christmas tour, the star vocalists are backed by a full orchestra which takes a more prominent role in the past than the Celtic Thunder Band sometimes has. At times, this becomes almost overpowering. But, overall, it's a beautiful backdrop for gorgeously performed pieces.
The ensembles, of which there are several, are particularly beautiful to listen to. Credit should go to Musical Director David Munro for this one. The ensemble arrangements just took my breath away. My absolute favorite is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. This has never historically been my favorite Christmas song, but this arrangement (and the performance of it) is amazing. The lead moves absolutely seamlessly from soloist to soloist, and is gorgeous. Gabriel's Message and Gaudete are both lovely carols with pristine harmonic arranging. The symphony can get to be a little much in spots on these, but overall is quite nice. The Pogues' Fairytale of New York is a popular tune whose appeal as a Christmas song I just don't quite get. That said, it's well-delivered and kind of fun to listen to.
George Donaldson's Mary's Boy Child is a perfect choice for him. The calypso rhythm fits his style like a glove and is performed wonderfully. Neil Byrne's Mary Did You Know? is also a really good fit. The symphony balances well with Neil's voice, and he emotes the meaning of the song very nicely. Ryan Kelly has a lovely performance in the older hymn, In the Bleak Mid-Winter. It's tender, heartfelt, and backed with pleasing vocal strength. As a big fan of Emmet Cahill's voice, I was really looking forward to his performance of O Holy Night. But, after listening to it, I just found myself a little disappointed and hopeful for something more.
In the end, this is a really wonderful album. It approaches the season of Christmas with great respect, holds some breathtakingly beautiful music, and I highly recommend it.