The Best of the Best, Celtic Favorites

Joan Lansberry

A Truly Magical Album!

Of all the families in Celtic music, the Clancy family have more relatives out there than any other, it seems. In the fifties and sixties, it was the Clancy brothers, and now Aoife Clancy sings with Cherish The Ladies. Well, her father was also a part of those Clancy brothers, and he's been collecting songs and poems through out the years. While all that time, he has been performing around the world, he now has some albums out. The older one, The Quiet Land, features some special songs. He brings a warmth to his songs that makes you feel like he's singing just to you. In the newest album, Make Me A Cup, both his daughter Aiofe and his son Finbarr join him. It has a cozy intimacy that is unique. This album is one of my very very favorites!

NOTE of February 1, 2000 December 8, 2009!:
Maybe if you remind me to tell you about Steeleye Span's Horkstow Grange and Gaelic Storm's Herding Cats, I might get around to telling you how wonderful they are a little sooner. I apologize for the lack of attention this page has received lately. Lately, you say? Yes, it HAS been a year and a half. I blush with shame.

Oh, and Cherish The Ladies' At Home is worth the bucks. It has a family gathering feeling to it, as well.

updated September 8, 2000

The NEXT TO Newest Listings! Maire Brennan of Clannad, in "Perfect Time"
NOMOS, with I Won't Be Afraid Any More and Set You Free
Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies, The Parish Notices
Cherish the Ladies, Threads of Time

Celtic music has become quite a passion with me. Many years ago, my first introduction to Celtic music began with Fiona Ritchie's wonderful program which aired on public radio in the early eighties. Her accent was gorgeous, I imagined her to be a gorgeous redhead. And the music was entrancing. But it wasn't until recently that I began delving with seriousness into this musical idiom. The Ceolas web site provides a wealth of information, to answer the questions of the beginner and of those more knowledged.

Silly Wizard, Live Wizardry

Gordon Jones, Johnny Cunningham, Andy M. Stewart, Phil Cunningham, Martin Hadden

My vote for all time best Celtic album goes to Silly Wizard's Live Wizardry. It was recorded live in concert in 1988. If this album fails to move you, check to see if you've got blood in your veins. Every song is strong, from the opening lively "The Queen of Argyll" to the end. "The Valley of Strathmore", "The Blackbird", "The Ramblin Rover", and "Golden, Golden" prove no one can write a ballad like Andy M. Stewart. If "Donald McGillavry" doesn't get your foot tapping, it may be too late for the doctor.

Andy M. Stewart, Manus Lunny, At It Again

After the break-up of Silly Wizard, Andy Stewart still continues to write uncomparable songs. His At It Again with Manus Lunny is also a true classic. "My Heart It Belongs to She" and "Haughs of Cromdale" are among its memorable songs. Receiving high praise in various catalogs, and next on my list to order, is the Stewart/ Lunny venture Dublin Lady. The song "Take Her in Your Arms" on that album is on a compilation disc I have. It is a true classic.


When Silly Wizard broke up, the Cunningham brothers went on to team up with siblings Micheal O' Domhnaill and Triona Ni Dhombnaill to form the aptly named Relativity band. Their first album was an INDIE winner and most deservedly so. "Gile Mear" is a thrilling anthem from the 1700's singing the praises of Prince Charles Stuart, in whom the people had hopes of withstanding the English advances. "An Seanduine Doite", from a bawdy Irish song, starts out slow but ends most lively.

Capercaillie, Secret People

Karen Matheson, Manus Lunny, Charles McKerron, John Saich, Marc Duff, and Donald Shaw

Some of these musicians are in many different groups. Manus Lunny is also in Capercaillie along with the others listed above. "Billboard" magazine declared Capercaillie "The most exciting and vibrant band in Celtic music today." Capercaillie's first CD, Crosswinds, recorded in 1986, is a fine traditional album. But hints of the evolution to come are apparent on "Ma Theid Mise Tuilleagh" in which Karen's gorgeous silky voice gently caresses the music. In Sidewaulk, their fire becomes apparent in tracks one, two and six. Karen's voice has matured into sheer grace.

Their album Delirium, recorded in 1990, went platinum in Scotland. "Coisich, a Ruin" is a Scots Gaelic ballad with a bouncy rhythm I play over and over. "You Will Rise Again", on this album, has encouraging lyrics:

 You'll wake to a different drum
In a place to call your own
Your world is shaking but a day will come
for a dream to take you home.

But I know for certain
Every time you fall
You will rise again
Above it all.
The short eight-song (but full priced) Get Out is a worthy investment for two of the songs alone. "Pige Ruadth" is a joyful and robust 'Puirt-A-Beul' (mouth tune). The Scottish Gaelic Love Song "Fear a' Bhata is a gently passionate ballad.

Their ingenuity shines in Secret People, as they blend the traditional Celtic with other influences, both ethnic and modern. "Four Stone Walls" and "hi rim bo" rock with Scottish fervor.

And their latest album, To the Moon recorded in October 1995, but just now available to the States through Green Linnet records will soon be reviewed here. Briefly, however, it is "out of this world" and has many superbly splendid songs, written by various of the groups members.

Also, Karen has recorded a solo album, The Dreaming Sea, in 1996. I don't know yet when it will be released in the US. But the Scottish Survival records version is available in the States through Gael Force, which has a web site. Karen's voice shines in this effort. There is less of the Scottish traditional fervor and more of a contemporary flair. "Move On" is a spritely song that flows gently along. There is a spoken poem at the beginning of "Calbharaigh"; song and poem together remind me of the American Indian powerful singing. "Mi le M'uilinn" is her finest, silkiest song ever. If you can't find this album, this particular song is on the Putamayo Women of the World Celtic II sampler. At least get the sampler!

Clannad, Fuaim

Maire Brennan, Ciaran Brennan, Noel Duggan, and Padraig Duggan

Another group that blends the traditional with jazz and rock is the ever popular Clannad.Their 1982 album Fuaim is especially important. Maire's sister Eithne Ni Bhraonain known worldwide as Enya got her start on this and the earlier Crann Ull. Fuaim still retains a slightly mor traditional leaning. Many of the songs have a gentle wistfulness. "Lish Young Buy-a-Broom" is a melody that will stay with you long after. They create a truly beautiful "Fuaim" ("sound" in Gaelic). Another recommended album is rogha: the best of clannad. I don't usually buy compilation albums when I already have all the songs on other CDs. But this is a selection of truly the finest cuts from some of their earlier albums.

Maire Brennen has gone solo on several albums. Perfect Time is her latest. For those seeking refreshing relaxing yet introspective spiritual music, this is the album. Although specifically more Christian, it can be enjoyed by all.

Open House, Hoof and Mouth

Kevin Burke, Mark Graham, Paul Kotapish, Sandy Silva

Here are the words of a descriptive advertisement: Open House is an acoustic world phenomenon. Drawing strength from the diversity of its musicians, the group takes full advantage of its varied instrumentation. Legendary Irish fiddler Kevin Burke slips easily among jigs, reels, bourrees and polkas, while Mark Graham's clarinet adds a decidely old-world quality and his harmonica a country feel to the ensemble. Citternist Paul Kotapish contributes distinctive original tunes, and unique rhythms are provided by Sandy Silva's driving percussive dance. Finally, the group's sophisticated repertoire is hilariously complemented by the infectious, tongue-in-cheek songwriting of Mark Graham. There's no hyperbole in that ad! I played the disc four times in a row, really savoring these special gems.. Mark Graham's song "Oedipus Rex" is the Greek classic condensed and updated with a wry sense of humor. I was thrilled to discover this is their third record for Green Linnet. More acquisitions of their music are in the future!

The Corrs, Forgiven, not Forgotten

Jim, Caroline, Sharon and Andrea Corr

Three Irish sisters and one brother make up the fresh, new sound of The Corrs. Their young voices blend perfectly on pop- tunes with traditional elements. It will be exciting to watch what happens as they mature. A new album is promised in late 1997.

Celtic Spirit,

by various musicians

An album of angel's voices that is deeply treasured is the Narada sampler Celtic Spirit. Twelve songs by various sources call into mind our ancient beginnings as "Here the Christian and the Pagan are sisters, they enrich and extend each other in the beautiful continuum of the Celtic. This music brings no division or unease. It is a gentle music which flows as surely as a river joining the silence of a mountain over miles of fields to the antiphon of the ocean. Celtic music is from the elements, it fuses the passion of fire, the generosity of air, the memory of earth and the femininity of water. It is the music of the homeland we call soul. Outer and inner landscape become one in its sacred rhythms.", from the liner notes by John O' Donohue, Ph.D.

Áine Minogue, The Mysts of Time

Should you like Celtic Spirit, there are other albums in a similar vein. Áine Minogue has recorded The Mysts of Time: Chants and Melodies of the Ageless Celtic Lands. Her silky voice and flowing harp, along with the talents of other musicians make for a spiritual, refreshing listen.

Nóirín Ní Riain, Celtic Soul

Nóirín has a gentle, almost thin soprano voice, but the great sincerity coming from the deep well of her spirituality shines forth and listening to this can transport you into the realm of the Divine immediately. There are a couple of songs from the Hindu tradition, along with ten songs of the sean nós (old style). Her "Ode to Bridget", on which she does voice and shruti box, and others play cello, harp synth, kanjira, and tanpura is deeply moving.

Celtic Twilight

by various musicians

This is an album that makes one think of the Celtic landscape. Listening to it, I can imagine I am on the coast of Scotland, in the summer, with the cool breezes gently blowing. This album, on the Hearts of Space label weaves eight selections from their signed artists roster with six others from musicians in the Celtic field. It is entirely soothing, and the only thing wrong with it, is the 'dream' ends too soon. But HOS has answered that dilemma with two sequels to this fine album.

Enya, Shepherd Moons

While we are on the ethereal vein, Enya's efforts come to mind. Her Shepherd Moons, ellicits dreamy reverie and relaxing as if floating in pools of warm limpid water. Her Memory of Trees was a deserving Grammy winner.

The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem, Luck of the Irish

In refreshing contrast to Enya's elegant smoothness, is the rough and rowdy appeal of the Clancy brothers with Tommy Makem in Luck of the Irish. They sang in the 50's and 60's. This album captures them live in concert, with humorous songs such as "Mr Moses Ri-Tooral-I-Ay" and "They're Moving Father's Grave to Build A Sewer." Tommy Makem's "Four Green Fields" gives me chills down my spine, it is so passionately moving.

James Galway and the Chieftains, In Ireland

Derek Bell, Martin Fay, Sean Keane, Kevin Conneff, Matt Molloy, and Paddy Moloney

While we're speaking of older classics, the Chieftains come to mind. They've been entertaining world-wide audiences for decades. Their album In Ireland with James Galway gives an example of their classic style.

But they are also give to innovation. Their latest album Santiago is quite a departure for them, travelling to the celtic northwest of Spain, Galicia, a green and hilly region. They sample the many moods and musical styles of this culture in this international album.

The Tannahill Weavers, Leaving St. Kilda

Roy Gullane, Phil Smillie, John Martin, Les Wilson, and Duncan J. Nicholson

Another mostly traditional band that has had a long history is the Tannahill Weavers. They just get better and better, as Leaving St. Kilda, their eleventh album, certainly proves. "Hieland Harry" is a lively, energetic, memorable song. The album's liner notes are well-done, with a personal touch, as if they are speaking to you.

Eileen Ivers, Wild Blue

Eileen Ivers, John Doyle, Tom "T Bone", Ben Wittman, Kimati Dinizulu and others

Eileen Ivers is the hottest violinist out there. These are steamy hot innovative tunes incorporating many influences with the old-style Irish traditional fiddling as the foundation. The liner notes say "No performer in Irish music is currently more in demand". She is also a musical part of the Riverdance phenomenom.

The Bothy Band, Live in Concert

Micheal O Domhnaill, Triona Ni Dhomhnaill, Donal Lunny, Kevin Burke, Matt Molloy, Paddy Keenan, Peter Browne

Another fiery group no less the brilliant for its being short-lived is the Bothy Band. They played from 1975 to 1978. "Maybe they didn't hang around as long as the others, but the lead instruments- fiddle, pipes and flute, they were raucous- the standard of playing was just incredible,and then the backing was so intense it was unbelievable. They were revolutionary in sound, yet the lead instruments were basically just playing straight...but they came with a fire in their belly.",( from the liner notes).

Altan, The Best of Altan, and Runaway Sunday

Mairéad ní Mhaonaigh, Dermot Byrne, Ciaran Tourish, Ciaran Curran, Mark Kelly, Dáithí Sproule, and on the "best of", Frankie Kennedy

A group which has often matched the Bothy Band for fervor is Altan. Green Linnet's compilation Best of from the various albums they produced shows well that fervor. The first track, a set of reels "Tommy Peoples/The Windmill/Fintan McManus's" is fiery at it's maximum. The traditional tune "A Bhean Udaí Thall" is a brisk romp. "Dúlamán", a popular children's song of nonsense rhyme is one of Altan's best. Altan's release of 1997, Runaway Sunday has less of the heat, but more of the gentle ballads which Mairéad delicately graces. A didgereedoo adds a pleasant spice to "Gleanntáin Ghlas Ghaoth Dobhair", a song which Mairéad's father Proinsias Ó Mhaonaigh wrote, about those who have to leave their homes and families to find work abroad. The song "Time has Passed" is one Mairéad wrote. Knowing that Frankie Kennedy, who was her husband, died in 1994 gives the added insight to better appreciate this song. He was the group's co-founder, and urged them to continue on, after the cancer that was ravaging his body would claim him.

Time has passed,
You have gone.
Your tune is played,
I must carry on.

She so well demonstrates that "Love is renewed". Undiluted and uncompromised, the music of Altan was - and still is - Irish music as it ought to be, "the sound of surprise," full of imagination, heart, an unwavering respect for the vaunted traditions from which it springs, and an unstoppable spirit lying beyond the reach of words. That is the hallmark of Altan, through whom the legacy of Frankie Kennedy not only endures but prevails. (From the "Best of" liner notes by Earle Hitchner.)

Putumayo Presents: Women of the World: Celtic

Maire Brennan, Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill, Mary Black, Karen Matheson, Maire Breatnach, Maura O'Connell, Fiona Joyce, Nancy McCallion and Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh

There are many compilation albums out there, for every preference in Celtic music. The Narada label has produced three such fine albums for those who prefer a mellow, mystical mood to their music. Windham Hill's Celtic Christmas II has a peaceful mood that can be enjoyed year round. Shenachie's A Treasury of Irish Song reflects this label's folk music specialization. Green Linnet, the major producer of Celtic music here in the States, has three excellent.compilation albums that display the variety and range of the various artists affliated with that label. But my most favorite is the Putumayo sampler. It features contempory Celtic music, my most-listened to speciality. Mary Black is a surprising discovery here. I turn the volume up loud on her "Treasure Island". Mary Black's rendition of "Song for Ireland" is so powerful and moving, it brings chills to my spine. Nancy McCallion's "On We Go" is an energetic tune that invites singing and dancing. Karen Matheson does "Waiting For the Wheel to Turn" which is on the Capercaillie Delirium album, but here it is spruced up with a new live version that is even hotter than the original.

NOMOS, I Won't Be Afraid Any More and Set You Free

Nially Vallely, Vince Milne, Gerry McKee, Frank Torpey, Liz Doherty and others

Nomos has spritely reels and jigs, as do most celtic groups, but it has something extra, the songwriting skills of John Spillane. Their earlier album I Won't Be Afraid Any More, features the album title song and "All the Ways You Wander". They will linger in your memory long after.

Set You Free is another fine album of varied songs. The concertina and bouzouki lend an exotic air to some. "I'm Going to Set You Free" and "When You and I Were True" are the brightest stars in this radiant set.

Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies, The Parish Notices

Jez Lowe, Billy Surgeoner, Jez Luton, Judy Dinning, with guests Jare Walten and Rob Kay

A group I've just discovered is Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies in their fine album The Parish Notices. The label on the outside of the shrink wrap describes Jez as one of England's best folk songwriters. The twelve songs here prove that well enough. Most memorable are "Tom - Tom" (which celebrates the invention of music, although an early accomplishment of humanity, certainity not its least!) and "The Parish Notices", a true story of two lovers, both women, persecuted by an ignorant and frightened community.

Cherish the Ladies, Threads of Time

Joanie Madden, Mary Coogan, Mary Rafferty, Donna Long, Siobhan Egan, Aoife Clancy

This album is a classic, a must-have. Aoife's silken voice makes each song an intimate experience. Each tune, ballad or jig, is strong. Best, however, is Yeats poem, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree", to which Aoife's music is hauntingly beautiful. Aoife is related to the Clancy Brothers. I look forward to future albums of this constantly maturing group.

Should you like to research this wonderful music medium further, the Ceolas web site URL is

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