various artists,
A Thistle & Shamrock
Christmas Ceilidh

(Green Linnet, 2000)

I was pleased when I heard Green Linnet was putting out a Christmas compilation CD. I was even happier when I learned that Fiona Ritchie, the sweet-voiced host of National Public Radio's Thistle & Shamrock, was involved. It'd be a good thing, I figured, to add her voice to any Celtic music CD to introduce the tunes.

Well, her voice isn't on the album. The collection is, like so many other Green Linnet compilations, merely a retread of tracks from other albums. And there isn't even much of a Christmas theme to the tunes selected.

A Thistle & Shamrock Christmas Ceilidh is fine so far as the music goes. I only have praise for tracks by the likes of Liz Carroll, Andy M. Stewart & Manus Lunny, Capercaillie, Cherish the Ladies, Lunasa and 12 others. But ... well, I feel like a teacher whose student wrote an amazingly good essay but failed to address the question. In this case, I was hoping for a Christmas album.

Sure, there are a few hints here and there -- John Renbourn plays "I Saw Three Ships," Altan touches on the winter season with "The Snowy Path" and Tannahill Weavers come close to Christmas with the New Year's Eve standard "Auld Lang Syne" -- but this isn't what I'd call a Christmas album by any stretch.

The idea of this CD, as explained by Ritchie in her liner notes, is to recreate a Christmas ceilidh as experienced in her Scottish home. But unfortunately, a collection of studio tracks can't really convey the excitement and social graces of a real ceilidh. Perhaps some live crowd sounds would have helped (only the last track is live), or maybe some commentary from Ritchie.

The inclusion of Mrs. Walkinshaw's Dundee Cake recipe is a nice touch, but it's not enough to put me in the Christmas spirit.

Green Linnet has put out some nice compilation discs over the years, and I have no real complaints about the selections on this one. The music, as usual, is excellent. But packaging it up as a Christmas CD is a bit misleading -- it might cause confusion among buyers who expect Christmas music.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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