If you're a fine but low-profile Irish folk group like the Chieftains, what would be on your Christmas wish list? Probably to get high-profile talents like Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull, Jackson Browne, Rickie Lee Jones and others to join you for a collection of seasonal music. Not that the Chieftains, with their lilting fiddles, flutes, Uilleann pipes and harp, need aid. But even Santa has helpers.
Two of the prettiest vocals here are by Nanci Griffith on "The Wexford Carol" and Jackson Browne on his "The Rebel Jesus." The record also contains some international flavor. Kate and Anna McGarrigle bring their crystalline harmonies to "II Est Né/ ça Berger," a medley of French-Canadian carols.
The Chieftains also journey across the Channel, figuratively, for "A Breton Carol," a French-Celtic tune sung by Nolwen Monjarret.
It's a lovely collection, though perhaps not as shimmeringly sentimental as Americans are used to on Christmas. This dignified, haunting music happens to be somewhat sad. The Chieftains, a sextet that has been together 28 years, haven't compromised their style. They've just added some star power to help them deck the halls. (RCA Victor)