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Happy Holidays Volume 35

"There is rarely an Irish Christmas album comes around that doesn't defrost my icicles."

The Chieftains

The Bells of Dublin

Rating : 10 Bells

I'm a big fan of Celtic music. There is rarely an Irish Christmas album comes around that doesn't defrost my icicles. "The Bells of Dublin" by The Chieftains is one of the best.

The Chieftains were the leaders of the resurgence of Irish music in the 60's and 70's. Originally a traditional music group, they exhausted that well after about 10 albums and began collaborating with various other artists, both in the contemporary Irish music field and elsewhere. Some of their collaborators included Van Morrison, Mick Jagger and Ry Cooder. (One I wish had come to fruition; before his death Frank Zappa had been sitting in on some sessions with them.) This is the well they dip their bucket into with this Christmas release.

The album plays as if you're celebrating a Christmas Day in Dublin. It begins with the church bells ringing in the day and continues on through a variety of carols. My favorites - Elvis Costello joins in with "St. Stephen's Day Murders" telling of a normal Christmas day with bratty kids and "the whole family tree you neglected to bury are feeding their faces until they explode." On a sweeter note are Kate and Anna McGarrigle singing the traditional French carol "Il est. new le Divan Enfant" which I had heard years ago and never realized it was the Chieftains backing their ethereal vocals.

The highlight of the album is the arrival of the Wren Boys. The Killing of the Wren is an old Irish tradition. The wren is a symbol of the old year while the robin is the symbol of the new. The symbol of the wren may come down from many different traditions. Some say that the wren betrayed the Irish army during a Viking invasion. Others see it as a representation of the dying king who must be reborn at the turning of the year. At any rate, groups would go from house to house collecting money "for to bury the wren" ... putting the old year to rest. And the Chieftains here do it up wonderfully, making you feel like a part of an Irish Christmas party.

The album winds down, as does a proper Irish Christmas, with the Children's Choir at midnight mass and the bells of Dublin once again ringing out the day. And after listening to this album, you might want to look out your window to see if you really are in Dublin! It's that good.