December 2001

Various Artists - A Christmas Celtic Sojourn
Rounder 1161-7042-2
Released: 2001

by Roger Kanno

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is a compilation CD by Brian O’Donovan, the host of the Celtic Sojourn radio show on Boston's WGBH. This album mainly consists of traditional vocal and instrumental Christmas arrangements from a wide variety of artists. The album has a more serious tone than most Christmas CDs, but will appeal to those with a fondness for lyrical Celtic music. The beautiful pastoral quality of the songs will also provide a peaceful and moving experience for those wanting a more spiritual Christmas experience.

Nestled among the traditional songs are "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and "Silent Night" performed in Irish Gaelic. Aine Minogue provides the vocals and plays harp on a haunting rendition of "Silent Night." Some perceptive listeners will also recognize the tranquil "Sou Gan," which was featured in the Steven Spielberg film, Empire of the Sun. This instrumental version features violin and pipes that weave a simple, but poignant sonic tapestry that is almost hypnotic.

Sonically, the album is a mixed bag of recording quality that varies from quite good to merely adequate. Some cuts such as "Christ Child’s Lullaby" suffer from excessive sibilants with a very "up front" quality to the vocals. The vocals on "Oiche Mhaith Leibh/Good Night To You," which also features Aine Minogue, sound distant and disembodied -- as do the strings. However, other tracks, such as "Misteriou Joaius," are well-recorded with the solo vocalist imaging solidly between the speakers and set back in the soundstage with the chorus spread widely and evenly from left to right. Instruments such as percussion and flute image nicely and the organ is powerful and majestic. Perhaps the best sounding cuts on the album are "A Midwinter Waltz" and "Personent Hodie/Cantus" which both have depth and ambience to spare.

For the most part, all of the songs on A Christmas Celtic Sojourn are quite beautiful and melodic which give this Christmas album a very traditional and solemn mood for those looking for a more reflective Christmas CD.