That gorgeous voice, an elegant arrangement of carols (and a few originals), all delivered with authentic Celtic style. This is now near the top of my regular Christmas album selections.
Upon a Winter’s Night
Label: Charcoal Records
Time: 11 tracks / 40 mins
Sometimes I wonder whether the really good Christmas albums – a rarity at any time – may have become so elusive that it is hardly worth trying to find them.
Most seasonal releases feature cheesy remakes of ‘50s crooners, a light sprinkling of rushed-off carols (if you're lucky) and/or reject songs buffed up with bells and seasonal lyrics, while the artists involved often abandon all the things that made them good in the first place.
News that Dillon was releasing a Christmas album was very hopeful. Consistency, integrity and excellence run through her work from start to finish. The good news: there’s no cheese, no crooners’ songs and no abandoning her modus operandi. The carols are beautifully worked, too.
That said, the opening title track threatened to dispel my excitement: despite Jarlath Henderson’s Uilleann pipes and a Celtic vibe, the lyrics seemed to stitch together the elements of the Christmas story without any of the event’s wonder.
But then came “The Wexford Carol.” One of several classics here, it is a truly sublime take on the piece – the sort of music that her voice was made for – set off beautifully by Niall Murphy’s haunting, emotive fiddle.
A dignified “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” may be short on the rejoicing, but it is beautifully sung and another where simplicity works. Husband Sam Lakeman’s sensitive piano is so often her best accompaniment and here again, he gets just the right touch throughout. Dillon adds a slight tweak of the tune at the very end for a little extra freshness.
Another standout, “O Holy Night” is an arresting á capella duet with her sister Mary.
By Dillon’s standards “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” and “The Holly and the Ivy” are fairly straightforward, the latter enjoying a little quiet piano coda of the more common tune. It's a nice detail.
The usual variety comes via a sad Christmas song (I know, that’s almost a cliché) “Standing by my Christmas Tree;” the traditional Gaelic “Rug Muire Mac do Dhuia (Mary Bore a Son to God)” and Lakeman’s welcome Celtic instrumental “The Huntsman.”
While many Christmas projects are excuses for their perpetrators to let standards slip, this one has all of Dillon’s hallmarks. It’s simply her gorgeous voice singing a fine balance of Christmas songs. I neither ask for anything more nor expect to come across a better one this year - or maybe even next.