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The Wexford Carols

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Album Review

Acclaimed Irish soprano Caitríona O'Leary takes a bit of a left turn on her 2014 holiday release The Wexford Carols. Generally known as an innovative voice in both early music and Irish folk, the Donegal native teamed up with Grammy-winning American producer Joe Henry to deliver a rare and well-researched set of Christmas carols that blend together Irish folk, Americana, blues, and gospel. O'Leary's crystalline voice is nicely juxtaposed against the rustic sounds of fretless banjo, fiddle, acoustic guitar, and drums, making for a warm and enchanting blend. Even more unique are the vocal pairings on this genre-hopping project that features an eclectic group of guests like pop icon Tom Jones, country legend Rosanne Cash, and Rhiannon Giddens from the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Full of spirited performances and emotional depth, The Wexford Carols is captivating from start to finish.

Customer Reviews

Beautiful voice and fine performances

This recording consists of versions of 12 of the Wexford Carols, some with what is believed to be their original melodies intact, and others set to other melodies when the oral and written tradition has failed to preserve that portion of the musical intent. The carols are sung primarily by Caitríona O’Leary, but the vocal talents of Tom Jones, Rosanne Cash, and Rhiannon Giddens (who is marvelous on Track 5 – “Now To Conclude Our Christmas Mirth”, with an assist from Ms. O’Leary and Tom Jones).

“The Darkest Midnight In December” (track 6 on the CD) features Ms. O’Leary a capella, so please listen to the sound sample to get a feel for her vocal style. An example of the ensemble work present on this recording can be found in “An Angel Bright This Midnight” (track 7), with Ms. O’Leary, Roseanne Cash, John Smith, and Graham Hopkins, accompanied by flute, fiddle, and various other instruments. If you are getting the impression that this disc is composite of different arrangement styles, you are correct, although it must be said that the arrangements chosen do seem very appropriate for the piece being performed. For me, though, track 10 (“A Virgin Queen In Bethlehem”) is the strongest vocal and instrumental piece on the CD. Ms. O’Leary’s sweet vocals pair beautifully with the cello, bodhran, drums, and other instruments. Simply marvelous.

While one is always tempted to ask, “Do I really need another album of holiday themed music?”, I found much listening pleasure in these interpretations and it spent more time than expected in my CD player during the recent holidays. Recommended.

Hauntingly beautiful

I heard this reviewed on NPR--I can't now remember which show. The album "exceeds expectations," because I'm always hunting for new Christmas carols. These have lots of meaning, beautiful melodies and interesting theology--for me they capture some of the longing for a better world that's inherent in the Christian tradition. Don't buy this if you want upbeat and cheerful!

Astounding Harmonies and Faith-Filled

I too heard about this collection on NPR and was first drawn to the instrumentation and title as I love the old carols. The collection is beautiful with astounding harmonies from an unlikely group of artists. The collection gives honor to the faith center celebration of Christmas in times past. So glad it found me!


Born: November 17, 1969 in Donegal, Ireland

Genre: World

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Caitríona O'Leary is an internationally renowned singer known for her work in traditional Irish music, folk songs, and early music. A native of Donegal, Ireland, she began her recording career in the mid-'90s with a performance of Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas, which was followed by several outings with the early music group Sequentia. In 1997 she began the first of several collaborations with another early music ensemble, the Harp Consort. She formed her own group, Dúlra, at the turn of the millennium...
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The Wexford Carols, Caitriona O'Leary
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