Caitriona O’Leary - The Wexford Carols

2017 studio album

The Wexford Carols - Caitriona O’Leary

the bright young folk review

Caitríona O’Leary is internationally known for her performance of traditional Irish songs and early music. In The Wexford Carols she brings forward an album that offers something special and quite different to other carol collections.

A joyful interpretation of carols from 16th and 17th Century Ireland, many never before recorded, this album is the culmination of O’Leary’s research and uncovers some lost melodies and words. In addition to connecting with the people, faith and music of Ireland past, she also offers some contemporary folk, blues and gospel song settings and is joined by Sir Tom Jones, Rhiannon Giddens and Rosanne Cash in bringing this unique carol collection to new life.

The album is a musical retelling of the Christmas story and in Tell Shepherds, O’Leary’s vocals are clear and crisp. Whilst the words and melody are traditional the contemporary setting brings the picture vividly to life. Her unaccompanied delivery of the contemplative and atmospheric.

The Darkest Midnight In December is pitch perfect and as pure as snow, transporting you to a bygone Christmas scene.

The best known track is The Enniscorthy Christmas Carol, also known as The Wexford Carol, which has been widely recorded over the years. It combines melody and harmonies which are both festive and majestic. O’Leary is joined by Giddens, Cash and Jones, and with minimal instrumental accompaniment, they collectively perform a memorable and unique interpretation of this gentle Christmas song.

There is some excellent musical storytelling throughout the album and in Now To Conclude Our Christmas Mirth, Rhiannon Giddens brings a powerful theatrical quality to this simple carol which is full of spiritual joy and wonder of Christmas.

This Is Our Christmass Day is an outstanding song of faith and sadness, which laments the absence of the Mass on Christmas Day. Written around 1678, when there was a prohibition on saying Mass in Ireland, the words and melody capture the deep sense of spiritual loss and longing. It is a lovely tune, reverently sung by O’Leary who fully captures the depth of emotion present within each line.

Whilst breathing new life into music and words, some of which were hidden for years, Caitríona O’Leary has admirably preserved past tradition and successfully introduced sympathetic new contemporary arrangements and settings, very ably assisted by Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens and Sir Tom Jones. The Wexford Carols is an enlightening, enjoyable and surprising package of gifts for those who enjoy the Christmas carol tradition.

Andy McMillan

Released on Heresy Records, produced by Joe Henry.

1. Tell Shepherds
2. An Angel This Night
3. Jerusalem Our Happy Home
4. This Is Our Christmass Day
5. Now To Conclude Our Christmas Mirth
6. The Darkest Midnight In December
7. An Angel This Bright Midnight
8. Behould Three Kings
9. The Angell Said To Joseph Mild
10. A Virgin Queen In Bethlehem
11. Christmas Day Is Come
12. The Enniscorthy Christmas Carol

Caitriona O’Leary discography