The Piano Guys have produced musical and video gems that mash up classical themes with pop songs, making their YouTube channel one of the most visited on the planet and bringing the group a recording deal with Sony Masterworks. This self-titled set, their major-label debut, features their amazing ten-handed take on One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful," the recording and video that first vaulted the Piano Guys to international fame.
Steve Leggett, Rovi
Comprised of 18 tracks culled from the singer/composer’s first three decades, The Very Best of Enya was pieced together by the artist herself, along with longtime collaborators Nicky and Roma Ryan. Luckily, the trio seems enamored by most of the same songs that the general public is, resulting in one of those rare “greatest-hits” collections that goes deep without depriving the listener of the essentials. With tunes like "Orinoco Flow," "Caribbean Blue," and "Book of Days" in the pot and out of the way, it’s easier to appreciate hidden gems like "Cursum Perficio," "Boadicea," "Trains and Winter Rains," and "Anywhere Is." Also notable is the inclusion of "May It Be" and a previously unreleased version of "Aníron (I Desire)," both of which originally appeared on the soundtrack for the first chapter of Peter Jackson’s beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy.
James Christopher Monger, Rovi
Cretu being no fool, he figured if it worked the first time, no need to change things much for the second. But he also knew not to simply go ahead and just rehash his debut for Cross of Changes, resulting in a just different enough effort along the same overall lines. The usual air of tasteful middle-of-the-road spirituality takes precedence, right down to the cover art and appropriately pantheistic quote from Persian mystic poet Rumi in the CD booklet. Needless to say, the music attempts to match the same throughout, and often succeeds. Things kick off with more of the synth-whale song noises and atmospherics from MCMXC, however there aren't any monks to be found this time around, but what sounds like the same whispering woman talking about "clearing the debts of many hundred years" and the like. From there, Cretu merrily takes the same plunge -- some of his sample choices this time around show he's got a decent record collection, including parts from Songs From the Victorious City, the striking fusion of Egyptian and Western musics from Anne Dudley and Jaz Coleman. His work with beats and loops noticeably shows a more developed edge -- while hardly an innovator, there's a bit more grime and loud in his rhythms, which in combination with extra electric guitar make a reasonable contrast to the smoother elements. Consider the rampaging conclusion to "I Love You...I'll Kill You," which while sharing some cheese with the title itself still works surprisingly well, right down to a clever Robert Plant vocal sample at the end. "Return to Innocence" was the big single from this one, not quite up there with "Sadeness" in the popular culture in the U.S. but almost inescapable elsewhere. There's another Led Zeppelin sample (this time John Bonham) and a haunting male vocal providing oomph under the fuzzy-headed greeting card philosophy of the main lyrics. It's an impressive effort, showing Cretu had a definite something in his own way.
Ned Raggett, Rovi
Songs from the Heart is the fifth offering from the Celtic Woman quintet. With some alternating membership, it sticks close to producer and arranger David Downes' (of "Riverdance" fame) vision/formula: these women sing contemporary and traditional Celtic songs and well-known standards backed by a choir, Celtic folk instruments -- bodhran, fiddle, Uilleann pipes, and bagpipes -- a full backing band, and an orchestra. Lisa Kelly does a tender reading of of Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” as an opener, while the entire group participates in an overblown version of “Amazing Grace,” complete with bagpipes. There is a lovely version of the traditional ballad “Nil Sé’n Lá” once more sung by the quintet with killer bodhran playing by Ray Fean. The song selection here is somewhat more eclectic than on previous albums, as evidenced by a complex, spit-shined and polished take on the Phil Collins-penned Disney tune “You’ll Be in My Heart” for an Alex Sharpe solo, the British Isles standard “My Lagan Love,” and even Dvorák’s “Non C’è Più.”
Thom Jurek, Rovi
Celtic Woman, a Riverdance-inspired PBS phenomena that boasts the talents of several female leads and a whole lot of orchestra and genre instruments like pipes, bodhrans, and fiddles, gives contemporary Celtic the Il Divo treatment on New Journey, a lovely and occasionally over the top collection of familiar melodies and grandiose sentiments that should please both the Celtic new age and the adult alternative crowds. [New Journey is also available in a "Deluxe Edition, Rovi
Believe, the sixth outing from the Celtic Woman, features 17 new tracks that dutifully blur the line between traditional and contemporary pop music. For the most part, the group, which consists of vocalists Chloë Agnew, Lisa Kelly and newcomer Lisa Lambe, violinist Máiréad Nesbitt, and a full orchestra, don't deviate too much from the Riverdance-meets-Celine Dion approach that's made them internationally lauded stars since their formation in 2004. Folk standards like "The Parting Glass," "Water Is Wide," and "Green Grow the Rushes" glisten with new age flourishes, yet retain their distinctive melodies, while grandiose takes on pop hits (Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters") and inspirational anthems ("You'll Never Walk Alone") throw subtlety under the bus and drive off into the sunset, resulting in another elegant and accessible set from the ladies that's sure to please longtime fans, while simultaneously reinforcing their detractors' ire.
Mythology, the tenth studio outing from the popular Celtic pop theater troupe Celtic Thunder, offers up a musical odyssey (with the usual internationally touring stage production) that charts the history of the Celts in Ireland. Produced by musical director and composer David Munro and featuring superb vocal performances from Emmet Cahill, Neil Byrne, Keith Harkin, Ryan Kelly, George Donaldson, and Colm Keegan, Mythology leans harder on tradition than previous outings, yet still finds time to toss in a few contemporary selections for good measure, like the Evelyn Danzig and Jack Segal-penned, Harry Belafonte-perfected "Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)," Lisa Gerrard's Gladiator ballad "Now We Are Free," and the ubiquitous "Hoedown" from American composer Aaron Copland's oft-utilized "Rodeo". For the most part, Munro and party stick with the classics, offering up typically lush and occasionally hammy, highly theatrical takes on Emerald Isle staples like "Danny Boy," "She Moved Through the Fair," "The Rocky Road to Dublin," "Carrickfergus," and "The Isle of Innisfree," all of which are handled with great care by their respective soloists, and the musical sections sigh, swell, bellow, and blow at all of the right moments.
James Christopher Monger, Rovi
The Book of Secrets, the follow-up to 1994's The Mask and Mirror -- there was a Christmas EP, A Winter Garden, released in 1995) -- finds Loreena McKennitt in the same musical vein, mixing Celtic, Spanish, Italian, and new age to create her own distinct sound. The only problem is that she did not seem to progress much during the time between releases. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since she still knows how to write incredible melodies and layer instruments to produce peaceful images. "Night Ride Across the Caucasus" and "Dante's Prayer" are just two prime examples of this. And she continues her practice of setting classic poetry to music (Alfred Noyes' "The Highwayman"). Expertly recorded at Peter Gabriel's Real World studios, this CD serves as a travelog of sorts for McKennitt, musically detailing her travels during 1995 and 1996. She provides the musical and lyrical inspirations from each location she visited, utilizing the instruments and sounds she encountered on her travels. Although she may be referred to as the Canadian Enya, McKennitt is definitely her own person, producing music of beauty and warmth.
Aaron Badgley, Rovi