IAC show sets gold standard

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Mick Moloney.[/caption]

By Daniel Neely

In a month where it seems like the world has only half-baked versions of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to offer, be assured you can find sanctuary in traditional Irish music, which always seems to have a rewarding seasonal alternative to offer that not only entertains but that binds the community in the warmest of ways. If you’re looking for ways to celebrate Christmas in music, there is an especially rich assortment of options this December.

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For example, in what seems to have become something of an annual tradition, Celtic supergroup Lúnasa is touring with the great singer Karan Casey. Their show “Christmas from Ireland” has, so far, been to Nova Scotia and Montreal, but when they finish up they’ll have also passed through New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Their New York City stop will happen at the Highline Ballroom on the 14th and folks are already buzzing.

This is one of my favorite concerts of the season. “Christmas from Ireland” is full of great tunes and songs that recall the lore and traditions of this time of year and are complemented by the group’s flute playing frontman Kevin Crawford's lively banter, which takes on a special warmth and humor when he has Casey sharing the helm. It promises to be a great night, See their website for additional dates and info,

The gold standard for shows in New York City is the Irish Arts Center’s “An Irish Christmas,” which takes place the 18th-20th at Symphony Space. Hosted by the great Mick Moloney and Athena Tergis, it is the most eagerly anticipated show of the season and one that has great intergenerational appeal.

If you come, expect to see familiar faces like Liz Hanley, Billy McComiskey, Donna Long, and Tamar Korn. However, Moloney’s bringing in some fresh blood this time around, including saxophonist and clarinetist Dan Levinson (of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks), performer Leni Sloan, and pianist Jesse Gelber. Dancer Niall O’Leary is back as well, and he’ll share the floor with Wayne Daniels, Juanita Brown, and Jack Fogle, great dancers all. And then there are the surprise guests! Colum McCann and Bill Whelan will be there for the fireside chats, but you never know who else might hop on onstage at the Irish Arts Center’s flagship Christmas show to share their talents! This great family show sells out quickly, so visit to order your tickets and learn more.

Cherish The Ladies has just released their third Christmas album, “Christmas in Ireland,” and surely it’s the best of it’s kind from them. Joanie Madden & co. have gone above and beyond here. The musicianship is top notch (as we would expect from Cherish) and their instrumental selections – like “Good King Wenceslas” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” are brilliantly realized.

They’ve also some outstanding guests. Hannah Rarity performs beautifully on “All The Valley Down” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and Don Stiffe is in top form on “The Christmas Letter” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” I am particularly drawn to Bridget Moloughney’s beautiful and evocative spoken word piece “An Irish Christmas Night” – it’s just fabulous.

What makes this album particularly nice is how it evokes – as a whole – the nostalgia and affection of Christmastime through the variety of a live show. Indeed, Cherish is on a tour at this very moment, spreading their especially exuberant brand of holiday cheer through New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and North Carolina – catch them if you can!

“Christmas in Ireland” is available through iTunes and CD Baby. For more information about the album and the tour, visit

Finally, for those looking for something a little different this season, I can’t recommend Róisín Elsafty & Ronan Browne & Tony Maher's CD “Amhráin Na Nollag: Favourite Christmas Songs In Irish” more highly. Elsafty, from Cill Chiaráin, Connemara, is a wonderful singer and Browne is one of the great pipers out there. Together with Maher on piano, the three have put together a lovely album of beloved Christmas songs. However, there’s a wrinkle: they’re all sung in Irish, expertly accompaniment on uilleann pipes, flute, whistle and piano

It’s a fascinating project that moves between several different moods. To hear “An Drumadóirín” (“Little Drummer Boy”) or “Rudolph na Sróine Deirge” (“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”) delivered in Irish is a treat and casts a new light on these well-worn songs. The arrangement for these tracks, and others like “Litir chuig Santaí” and “Cloigíní” (“Jingle Bells”), add to this as they carry a delicate, playful character that evokes the wonder and innocence of childhood.

The album has a more serious side as well. Songs, like “Tá Aistear Fada Romhainn,” “Don Oíche úd i mBeithil,” and “Oíche Chiúin,” and instrumental tracks, like “O Holy Night” and “Adeste Fidelis,” are more atmospheric and etherial and contrast well with the album’s other contents nicely.

“Amhráin Na Nollag" is a must-have Christmas album for anyone interested in Irish culture as gaeilge. The music is lovely and will make a welcome addition to your holiday soundtrack! It is available for download through

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Daniel Neely writes about traditional music in the Irish Echo each week.