This is quite possibly the one of the most impressive Christmas CDs I have ever run across. It is most certainly not what I had expected. I’d figured another run-of-the-mill Celtic Christmas experience; there are after all a great many of them flooding the market and none to really stand above the rest until this one.
Caroline Peyton is a fascinating vocalist, having had her voice featured on a number of Disney releases, such as Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Aladdin, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She has also performed on Broadway and at the White House. As a proud descendant of the Irish McGraths, this spectacular session singer has recorded in studios across the United States and Europe. Caroline is also a member of the Harkin clan, by her marriage to the co-prducer of this CD, Brendan Harkin.
Featured on this CD are 11 tracks containing traditional Irish carols, combined with vocals so ethereal that you’d swear their origin was not human. Further blended and offset by haunting instrumentation, this disc will transport your soul to the true meaning of Christmas. At times, it vaguely reminded me of Enya’s work. Also, as my daughter has played it time and again so that everyone in the household has it memorized, it reminded me of The Titanic Soundtrack by James Horner. This sentiment is also indicated on the Green Hill Music site, and I am in full agreement. If you have listened to it, you will know it is a haunting work as well. However, Celtic Christmas Spirit surpasses even that soundtrack with its own very distinct sound.
A number of musicians made this experience possible: Caroline Peyton (vocals), Pat Coil (piano, keyboards), David Huntsinger (piano), Bob Patin (piano), John Mock (whistles, bodhran), John Catchings (cello), David Davidson (violin), Brendan Harkin (guitar, mandolin), Jeff Lisenby (accordion), Eric Darken (percussion), and Jack Jezzro (double bass), as well as Gaelic Coach Elizabeth Reed.
The CD opens with “Carul Loch Garman (Wexford Carol),” a traditional Irish carol and possibly the most ethereal on the entire disc. It leaves you holding your breath so that it won’t distract you from the music.
“Mater Ora Filium” is a traditional Irish Folk song, which is rather slow and solemn. It brings to mind the cold wind blowing during a blizzard and mulled wine and candlelight. It makes one glad for being indoors, that is for certain.
This disc could be one of the best Christmas investments you make, as it will be there year after year. Transporting you and yours into that special place we all enter for the holiday season, the feeling of inner warmth, peace, and happiness. It is available from the Green Hill Music website.
(Green Hill Music, 2000)
[Update: Sadly, Caroline Peyton has died since this review was written. She passed at the age of 69 in 2021. “She always said that her best work was 1998’s Celtic Christmas Spirit, which is a marvelous album,” according to Stephen Trageser, music editor of Nashville Scene, who wrote this remembrance of her.]