Eileen Ivers,
An Nollaig: An Irish Christmas
(Compass, 2007)

Eileen Ivers has every reason to consider this album a success. But, many of her fans won't like it.

Ivers, one of the most innovative fiddlers to come out of the Irish-American music scene in a long while, wanted to create a Christmas gift of an album, one that suggests the sort of friends-and-family gatherings she remembers from her childhood and from stories of her parents' lives in Ireland. This recording suits that aim perfectly, evoking the mood of a group of friends taking turns offering up a song or tune at a casual Christmas party.

But I was expecting a fiddler's album, and I very much wanted to hear Ivers put her very unique stamp on a selection of holiday tunes. You don't get that here; on most tracks, her fiddle is just a background accent, skipping merrily along behind the voices of various guest singers (including, most notably, Susan McKeown on "Don Oiche Ud I mBeithill/One Night in Bethlehem").

The singing is fine, and it all falls together as a pleasant CD for the season. But for the fiddle fanatic who, like myself, is expecting Ivers at her musical best, you'll have to settle instead for a whole lot of fiddle harmonies that only hint at the possibilities.

J.S. Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" is a singular treat; performing with a chorus of singers, Ivers reworks the familiar tune as a jig -- and it works really, really well. (I am reminded of her version many years ago of Pachelbel's "Canon in D" as a hornpipe.) But "Jesu" here is the exception, not the rule.

So far as fiddle tracks go, "High Road to Linton" is a spirited reel with an excellent presentation ... but "Linton" has nothing to do with Christmas, so I'm not sure why it's here. There are a few others, but not enough to sate my thirst for the Ivers sound.

Expectations will dictate your reaction to An Nollaig. If you'll be satisfied with a congenial Christmas songfest, this would make a wonderful purchase. If you're looking for an Ivers showcase for the holidays, however, look elsewhere.

review by
Tom Knapp

15 December 2007

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