various artists,
A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, Live
(Rounder, 2007)

If ever there was a time for traditions, Christmas is it. From baking to gathering at Grandma's house for Christmas dinner (where Grandma's grandmother's tablecloth graces the table) to listening to the same records over and over every year to whatever your family's time-honored traditions are, it just doesn't feel like Christmas without them.

The Christmas Celtic Sojourn concert series has now become a tradition of its own. Hosted by Brian O'Donovan, the host of the radio program A Celtic Sojourn, the concert series is now in its fourth year. A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, Live captures the final performance of 2006's six-show run at Boston's Cutler Majestic Theatre.

Performers include O'Donovan, his daughter Fionnuala, Robbie O'Connell, Tony McManus and Billy Novick, the a cappella group Navan, Karan Casey, the Mulcahy Family and dancers Kieran Jordan, Nicholas Yenson and Aidan Vaughan. The setting is informal, with the performers all seated on the prettily-dressed stage. The traditional fare includes such songs as "Silent Night," "The First Noel," "Oh Holy Night" and "Miss Fogarty's Christmas Cake."

"Informal" is the watchword here. In the behind-the-scenes peek included in the DVD's extras, host O'Donovan declares that A Celtic Christmas Sojourn is not a concert, and that he avoids the term "show," preferring to think of it as a "gathering." On the back of the DVD case, he says, "Our initial idea was simple: replicate the gatherings that we love to have at this time of year with family and friends. Share some songs, read some poetry, tell a few stories, and dance. We simply decided to expand the guest list!" Camera shots of the audience show they're delighted to be included. The warmth and intimacy of the show is emphasized by O'Donovan taking the stage with a mug in one hand and a large book held in the other; when not singing, he occupies a large leather wingback chair to one side of the musicians.

How well do they succeed? Well, when you're sitting in your living room watching them on a small screen instead of live in a theatre, it's harder to think of it as a "gathering," but still, something of the warmth does translate to the DVD. The camera-work does much to bring the illusion of intimacy. The sound is good, the music is clear and there are no extraneous audience sounds; even when the audience is singing along, you hear mainly the musicians.

If your taste runs to glizty spectacles like Celtic Woman: A Christmas Celebration with its huge choir, begowned singers and almost militarily precise choreography, then this DVD might not be for you. But if you prefer a simple gathering with friends and family, then find your favorite hot drink and prepare to add A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, Live to your holiday traditions.

review by
Laurie Thayer

22 December 2007

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