Produced By Henry, The Wexford Carols Marks The First-Ever Recording Of Ireland’s Greatest Christmas Music
The Wexford Carols, a collection of 17th and 18th century Irish Christmas songs, mostly lost to history until recently, have, the first time, been recorded together by celebrated Irish singer Caitríona O’Leary along with a cast of American and UK Grammy winners including Sir Tom Jones, Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens and producer Joe Henry.
The carols represent Ireland’s greatest homegrown Christmas music and perhaps the last major collection of folk carols in English yet to be recorded and introduced to the public. The Wexford Carols will be released November 4th via Heresy Records.
Featuring O’Leary’s captivating singing along with Jones, Cash and Giddens, the album was produced by four-time Grammy winner, Joe Henry. Mr. Henry’s vision for the recording was to create an intimate, real-time ensemble album that integrates a diversity of related folk traditions (including Irish Traditional, American Roots, Gospel, Blues) with the goal of communicating the beauty, accessibility and spiritual power of this unique and compelling repertoire.
The Wexford Carols is in fact two collections of carols plus the famous Enniscorthy Carol (sometimes recorded as The Wexford Carol). The earlier collection, by Bishop Luke Waddinge, was first published in 1684 and is comprised of eleven poems. The later collection, completed in 1728 by Fr. William Devereux, also contains 11 poems. Both Waddinge and Devereux’s lyrics were set to popular Irish and English tunes of the period. These sublime songs, composed in post-Cromwellian Ireland, a time when the Catholic population suffered harsh religious persecution and severe hardship, formed the basis of a long-standing tradition of carol singing in County Wexford.
While the tradition stretches back hundreds of years and continues to the present day in the Wexford parish of Kilmore (the carols are sometimes collectively referred to as The Kilmore Carols), only a small number of the carols are still performed there. In fact, only six of the original melodies are extant and most of the carols are sung to the same three tunes.
Caitríona O’Leary’s fascination with the carols led to a long period of research and investigation during which time she discovered many of the lost melodies. This recording introduces twelve of the most beautiful carols and presents them with their original melodies.
The Wexford Carols express religious, metaphysical, social and political ideas used to tell the Story of Christmas. Through highly descriptive and deeply felt poetry the carols depict the Prophecy, the Annunciation, Mary and Joseph’s Journey to Bethlehem, the Birth of Jesus in the Stable, the Star, the Angels and Shepherds, the Three Wise Men, the Flight to Egypt and the Slaughter of the Innocents. The carols are emotionally expansive and explore a wide range of feeling moving from a lament on the prohibition of the Mass in 1678, to a philosophical mediation on the reconciliation of opposites, to an exuberant celebration of Christmas.
The Wexford Carols was recorded between the 21st and 25th of July 2014 at Grouse Lodge Studio, an isolated residential recording studio deep in the countryside of County Westmeath, Ireland. The area is known for its ancient historic and mythic connections and was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.
THE WEXFORD CAROLS
Caitríona O’Leary –Voice
Rhiannon Giddens – Voice, Fiddle, Minstrel Banjo
Rosanne Cash – Voice
Tom Jones – Voice
Adrian Hart – Fiddle
Eamonn de Barra – Flute, Whistle
John Smith – Voice, Guitar, Mandola
Dónal Lunny – Bouzuki
Kate Ellis – Cello
Greg Cohen – Double Bass
Mel Mercier – Bodhrán, Bones
Graham Hopkins – Voice, Drums
Joe Henry, Producer
Ryan Freeland, Recording Engineer, Mix and Master
Track Listing for The Wexford Carols
1. Tell Shepherds – Caitríona O’Leary, Singer
2. An Angel This Night – Caitríona O’Leary, Singer
3. Jerusalem Our Happy Home – Tom Jones, Singer, Caitríona O’Leary & Rhiannon Giddens Backing Vocals
4. This Is Our Christmass Day – Caitríona O’Leary, Singer
5. Now To Conclude Our Christmas Mirth – Rhiannon Giddens, Singer, Tom Jones & Caitríona O’Leary Backing Vocals
6. The Darkest Midnight In December – Caitríona O’Leary, Singer
7. An Angel This Bright Midnight – Rosanne Cash, Caitríona O’Leary, John Smith, Graham Hopkins Vocals
8. Behould Three Kings – Rosanne Cash, Singer, Caitríona O’Leary, John Smith, Graham Hopkins Vocals
9. The Angell Said To Joseph Mild – Tom Jones, Singer, Caitríona O’Leary & Rhiannon Giddens, Backing Vocals
10. A Virgin Queen In Bethlehem – Caitríona O’Leary, Singer
11. Christmas Day Is Come – Rhiannon Giddens & Caitríona O’Leary, Vocals
12. The Enniscorthy Christmas Carol – Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Caitríona O’Leary, Tom Jones, Vocals