|A Scottish Christmas|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Thursday, 10 October 2002|
You will have to forgive me for reviewing a Christmas record at this time of year, but after it arrived last month and I gave it a listen, I wanted to let you know about it straight away.
This excellent album features a stunning lineup of Celtic musicians, mainly from the U.S., but with at least one born in Scotland. With a lively combination of well-known Christmas songs arranged in a Scottish style, and traditional Scottish music and dancing, the album is an ideal Christmas gift for anyone with a love for the Celtic heritage.
Headlining on the album – a 77-minute live performance recorded at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, in Clinton Township, MI, in December 2000 – is fiddler Bonnie Rideout, a native of Michigan who was brought up in Maine and lived on the Scottish Isle of Skye during the course of her musical education in the art of traditional and 18th Century Scottish fiddle playing, at which she is brilliant. She’s joined by Tony Cuffe on guitar and vocals, leading Uilleann piper Jerry O’Sullivan, who also plays Scottish small-pipes and pennywhistle, Paddy League on bodhran, and Maggie Sansone playing the hammered dulcimer – an instrument very popular in North American Celtic music, but less common at home. Also featured are the stirring pipes of the City of Washington Pipe Band and Highland dancers Robert McOwen and Jen Schoonover.
The project is a collaboration between BMG Special Projects and a fascinating Maryland-based Celtic music label, Maggie’s Music (maggiesmusic.com). Although there are virtually no printed details provided (just the notes on the back of the box), this is more than made up for with the inclusion of copious additional material on the DVD itself, including no less than two documentaries, artist bios and interviews, discography, and a full-length "director’s commentary" from Rideout and BMG Executive Producer Ed Osborne.
Rideout will probably be known to Celtic music fans in North America, if only for her appearances on NPR’s "Thistle and Shamrock," while O’Sullivan is perhaps the leading piper in the country, especially known for his work on the Irish Uilleann pipes. But everyone is a virtuoso performer on this disc and the content is well-chosen and beautifully arranged for the season. Whether the band is delivering a medley of Christmas songs, jigs and reels – there are several on this disc – or heartwarming individual songs, everything is impeccably presented and performed live for your delectation. No particular favorites for me: it’s all great stuff.
The disc features Dolby AC-3 and stereo mixes, with the surround obviously delivering more of the atmosphere of the live show than mere stereo. It would have been nice to have a DTS soundtrack, but here the video is almost as important as the sound, with close-ups of the soloists on their instruments and the beautiful choreography of the Scottish dances.
Of course, for the Scots, New Year (Hogmanay) is almost more important than Christmas, and the disc finishes with a heart-warming rendering of the immortal "Auld Lang Syne," the "most popular song nobody knows," brought to public attention by Rabbie Burns (1759-96), but with roots going back to the 16th century – now the quintessential song to be sung in many parts of the world as the old year turns to new.
This disc isn’t on my Christmas list -- because I’ve already got one – but it should be on yours.