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CD/Music DVD Reviews

reviews by Brendan O'Regan unless stated otherwise

High is the Heaven
Liam Lawton
Liam Lawton's new CD collection High Is the Heaven is a wonderful treaure trove for those looking for spiritual choral music or just relaxing religious music for personal reflection. Lawton shares vocal duties with Hannah Evans, Ardhú and the Dublin Chamber Singers, providing a varied interplay of voices. The Psalms are prominent, so expect some of these arrangements to surafce in your local churches as choirs get acquainted with the material.
One of these, the opening track 'The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor', was written for the Papal Mass of Pope Francis on his visit to Ireland. 'There's a Star' is a beautifully atmospheric Christmas song - "There's a whisper on this cold, cold, night". Most of the songs are slow and reflective, but the title track 'High Is the Heaven' has a nice lilt to it, and a creation/ecological theme - "what of the world, that it may reflect/the presence of God, this beauty on earth". Likewise with one of the older songs 'In the presence of the Angels' - "Praise God, O sun and moon/and all you shining stars/and in the waters deep'. What is probably Lawton's greatest 'hit', 'The Cloud's Veil', is given a new outing here as a bonus track and it's a fine choral version.
There are subtle Celtic elements throughout - as Lawton says in his sleeve notes - 'The beauty of the spirituality of this ancient land is found in all these pieces'

Journey to Your Heart
Sr Marie Dunne

Journey to Your HeartThis is a beautiful album of calm relaxing music from liturgical composer Sr Marie Dunne. Best advice – take an hour off and listen prayerfully to this collection – 13 songs with a reflective instrumental to finish! It’s a fine blend of traditional and modern – the arrangements and delivery are contemporary but at times Sr Marie revisits old texts and breathes new life into them – for example on ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’, Mary’s Magnificat’ and the ‘Saint Francis Peace Prayer’.  It’s a timely release as she taps into the Year of Mercy with a beautiful song ‘With the Lord There Is Mercy and Love’. Other hugely important themes figure also – like gratitude (‘How Can I Thank the Lord’), hospitality (‘Blessing of Hospitality’) and faith (‘To Believe Again’). I liked the imagery of the title track – ‘The journey to your heart/Will lead you to that place/Where you will find your deepest peace’.  ‘A Mhuire na nGrás’ is based on an old Celtic prayer, and here harp, violin, pipes and flute are used to great effect to create that Celtic feel. Among the many welcome features of this album is the use of a variety of vocalists. Long-time collaborator Patricia Bourke D’Souza sings many of the songs, while a standout track is Marino Nguekam’s lead vocal on ‘In Their Memory’, a gracious tribute to ‘the Ebola heroes of the Hospitaller Order of the Saint John of God family’ – 'because they loved they did not die in vain'. Musical arrangements and production values are excellent throughout and, always welcome, there’s a comprehensive lyrics booklet.

Johnny Duhan

Creation by Duhan

Johnny Duhan is a modern mystic of song.  He has  one of the most distinctive voices in Irish folk and singer-songwriter circles, but even more distinctive, even unique, is the fact that he weaves spiritual and religious themes so sincerely  into his reflective songs. This is particularly true of this album Creation, as might be guessed from the title. I’m pretty sure you won’t hear anything quite like this elsewhere – it’s deep, reflective, playful and spiritual, in tune with people, nature and God. My favourite track is ‘Advent 2013’ a special reflection on the season, with a prominent journey theme, perfectly enhanced by subtle guitar and piano backing. ‘The Three Temptations’, has to be the only song I know that dramatises the temptations of Christ in the desert – the low whistle intro by Davy Spillane sets the scene so well.  ‘The Cross’ reflects on the powerful symbolism of that image, while ‘Resurrection’ relates that biblical event to the ‘fresh shoots of Spring’ – ‘so much splendour still to come’. The songs are not all religious – ‘Missing You’ is a touching song about parents at home here with children away in Australia, a song that will have a resonance for many Irish parents – prepare to shed tears! ‘Winter’ is a natural follow-on song, with its winter-driven meditation on parents growing older together. This album will repay repeated listening, especially if experienced at a quiet time, free from the noise of the world.

Lead Us to the Water
Brendan Shanahan
Shanahan CD
Brendan Shanahan is an accomplished writer of spiritual songs and his album Lead Us to the Water is well worth a listen. The vocals and overall production values are excellent - I was reminded at times of John Denver! The music backing, subtle guitar, keyboards and percussion, is uncluttered and never overwhelms the lyrics. The messages are important and Shanahan makes sure the words are heard clearly. The catchy melodies enhance the impact. My favourite track is the title song – always crucial to start an album with a song that will draw in the listener. Most of the songs are reflective but there’s also the uptempo worship song ‘Praise the Lord’. ‘The Passion’ is an ambitious piece … over 9 minutes of a musical narration of the Passion. I wasn’t so enthusiastic about this one .. the narration is too much like prose whereas the other songs are more poetic. But it certainly will be useful for personal meditation or parish passion plays in Holy Week. Most songs are original, but Shanahan also adds two familiar hymns .. ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and ‘Ave Maria’. There’s no lyric sheet but the words are always clear, and there’s a short reflection on each song on the CD sleeve. On my version the track listing on the sleeve didn’t quite match the actual order of tracks on the disc, but that’s a minor complaint .. all in all this is a worthy album that can be a resource for schools and church folk groups as well as an aid for personal prayer.

Little Flower - Old Prayers New Music
Various Choirs

This album works well on so many levels. Composer Brian Lawler has breathed new life into many familiar prayers, giving them bright new musical settings. Not only that but he has brought together some fine choirs from south Dublin, especially his native Mount Merrion parish, and with excellent production values has, along with co-producer Ben Rawlins, brought us a collection that deserves wide circulation and acts as a model for other parishes thinking of doing something similar. There are some youth choirs in the mix and it's wonderful, on the first part of the album, to hear them singing these new versions of prayers like 'Glory Be to the Father', and 'Hail Holy Queen'. There are also some completely new songs here as well, including the catchy 'O My Dear Lord We Need You' and 'Saint Therese'. Continuing the inspiration of St Therese the second half of the CD features Lawler's 'Little Flower Mass'. All in all Mount Merrion parish can be proud of this work, and other parishes, schools and schools should find here a wealth of material for the future. And the icing on the cake is a comprehensive lyrics booklet with complete credits and background notes.

Things I Want to Say
Ruth Trimble

This is a really mature and striking album from this Belfast singer-songwriter. The songs, mainly piano driven, deal with genuinely human emotions, often with an underpinning of sound and subtle spirituality. There are so many fine tracks but one standout is the reflective 'God Knows', about, as the sleeve notes say, how 'God knew the people you needed in your life and put them there just at the right time'. The title track, 'Things i Want to Say' is a touching song about bereavement, reflecting on what one would like to say to the person who has passed away (in this case a friend of Ruth Trimble). Perhaps 'Goodbye' follows a similar theme, or perhaps it's about a relationship break-up. 'Tonight', 'Let You Go' and 'Set You Free' are more definitely break-up songs with some interesting takes on a familiar genre. 'Awaken My Soul' starts out along those lines but by the end seems like it's about drifting from God. 'May It Be' is like a blessing, a song of faith and hope - 'Lord you have called me to be an example/Now by your grace renew my heart to follow'. Fighter' pays tribute to her nephew Caleb whose will to life got him through a tough first few weeks in the world, while 'Judah' is a loving tribute to another nephew - lucky fellows! All in all it's a varied and touching album, well produced, and with a comprehensive booklet featuring lyrics, credits and brief but enlightening observations on most of the songs.

As Sure as the Sun
Ellie Holcomb

Nashville-based singer-songwriter Ellie Holcomb has released what must be one of the best contemporary Christian albums of 2014. Styles vary - roots, country rock, folk, with a contemporary feel throughout. I've been impressed by her previous EPs and this is truly a treasure - well worth waiting for her first full album! Holcomb's distinctive voice is always to the fore and the lyrics always clear, providing a sense of intimacy, a sense of being addressed directly in your heart. The arrangements are top notch, the melodies catchy, those lyrics simple and direct. There's not a bad track on the album and many of them would work as singles. The variety is particularly attractive - even the first two tracks demonstrate this - the reflective opening track 'Sure As the Sun' with its effective piano backing followed by the upbeat 'Marvelous Light'. Standout tracks include 'The Broken Beautiful' which has the the most striking melody and arrangement, and 'The Only Hope I've Got', with its important message and fine piano and guitar work. There are Scriptural resonances throughout - e.g. 'Love Never Fails' explores At Paul's reflections on love in 1 Corinthians. The themes are varied, but themes of love, brokeness, forgiveness hope and liberation are prominent. The album is ideal for personal listening, meditation, prayer and educational use, but at all times never looses its entertainment value. The album can be previewed/downloaded at the usual outlets - Amazon, iTunes, while a physical CD can be ordered here.

Fortunate Fall
Audrey Assad

This is one of the most beautiful albums I have heard this year. Assad's voice and piano are what make it so striking, and in fact if there were no other vocals or instruments it would still be great. Her voice manages to soar and be intimate all at the same time. It's a reflective album and for a first listening I'd advise a quiet dark room so that the impact can be effective as possible! There's a full lyric sheet where each song is tagged with various uses and contexts, such as personal devotion, praise and worship, Eucharistic adoration, Mass - all of which is interesting and useful though hardly necessary. There's one fine instrumental, 'Felix Culpa', and the songs, mostly Assad originals, are all good, though I was particularly impressed by a few of them. Standout track for me was 'I Shall Not Want' with its important message that touches on our very human fears - 'From the love of my own comfort/From the fear of having nothing … Deliver Me O God'. 'Lead Kindly Light' is a gentle and appealing song, though John Henry Newman should have got a credit for inspiration and some opening words! 'Lead Me On', co-written with Matt Maher, is firmly based in Scripture with its familiar image of God as shepherd and its tone of quiet confidence. Hope is a vital quality in our world, and in 'Good to Me', with its strong choral voices, Assad perfectly matches the tone and the sentiments - 'I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise'. One of the strongest themes of the album features most prominently in the haunting title track - 'Fortunate Fall': 'Fortunate fall/That gained for us so great a redeemer'. Occasionally a few of the words are not as distinct as I'd like them to be but that aside teachers will find plenty here for prayer and meditation services and choir directors will surely delight in such excellent new material. Audio samples available at Amazon and iTunes.
Liam Lawton
If you wanted a spiritual album for quiet personal reflection you needn't look any farther than Liam Lawton's new album Eternal. The opening song 'Holy Ground' invites the listener into sacred space - "In this holy place where God's love is found". Then 'Into the Quiet' invites quiet reflection in this space - "Into the quiet God calls you". The rest of the album reflects on love, faith, mission and much more. For this Year of Faith, 2013, the song 'In God We Live' is admirably suited - 'In faith we come. In faith we seek'. There's a song for Mary, an appealing new take on 'Ave Maria'; a reflection on our purpose in the world based on the writings of St Teresa of Avila, 'Christ Has No Body Now but Yours'; 'Breastplate', a worthy addition to the long list of musical versions of the breastplate of St Patrick. The experts in the field say that gratitude is a very healthy attitude, and the Psalm-based 'Eternal is Your Love' touches on that - "I thank you Lord with all my heart". For those who are troubled the consoling words of 'The Lord is My Shelter' will be like a balm that soothes - "When the heart is sad and weary, fragile and frail, he will hear you when you cry out". The album seems aimed at instilling calm and meditation, and it works so well on that level, though I would like to have seen a little more variety in approach, even if there was just one uptempo song to finish with, a sort of cheerful recessional after prayer. Apart from its value for personal meditation the album will, no doubt, be a rich resource for Church choirs. The musical arrangements, mostly by Chris de Silva, are beautiful throughout and production quality is top notch throughout and there's a comprehensive booklet with lyrics and detailed credits, which is always welcome.
Some audio samples here
The Spirit Speaks My Name
Marie Dunne

Now here's an album that adds 13 beatutiful songs to the repertoire of Irish liturgical music. The songs are composed by Marie Dunne CHF and performed under her direction by a variety of singers including Patricia Bourke D'Souza, Alan Hynes, Emma Humbe, Linda Ledwidge and Brenda McGivney. Choirs include the Saint John of God Choir, Saint Frances' Hospice Choir, Raheny, Dublin and Holy Faith Secondary Choir, Clontarf, Dublin. My favourite track was 'A Stranger No More', an always timely song about hospitality ("May the seeds of hospitality take roots in our hearts"). 'You Will be My Witnesses' is a fine song useful for consideration of the topic of vocation. 'Let the Heart Command' features effective choral work that underlines the important message. 'Fan Into Flame' explores the idea of giftedness, while 'Lúireach Phádraig' gives an Irish language outing to St Patrick's Breastplate. There's so much here for church choirs, youth groups and personal or group meditation. Musical arrangements and orchestrations are fine throughout and never overwhelm the vocals. The songs are uniformly relaxing, though I would have liked more variety of tone, rhythm and vocal styles.
Mountain Top
Ronan Johnston and Emmaus

I love to get a new musical version of St Patrick's Breastplate, and Patrick's Shield on this album is a worthy addition to the collection. It is suitable for personal reflection, school use, and would be great in any praise and worship setting. I like the metaphors on the album - especially on the first track, the soulful Dry Bones. The background vocals on this track are excellent, as they are throughout the album. Johnston's lead vocals and arrangements are excellent as always. There's much variety on display here - from a beautiful scriptural ballad like Lord I Am Not Proud - Psalm 131 to the catchy One More Time Around, the bluesy If the Devil Gets a Hold and the more uptempo Mountaintop and Do Not Be Afraid. All in all the album exudes quality, imagination and commitment.
Lets Not Go Back to Egypt
Ronan Johnston and Emmaus

There are so many strengths to this new album from one of Ireland's best known gospel-rock groups. The melodies are strong - many tracks could become spiritual anthems given the right exposure. Johnston's singing is crystal clear - he has a message annd wants us to hear every word. The backing vocals are the best I've heard in a long time. The musical arrangements are imaginative and well tailored to each of the songs - tasteful piano is prominent. And what variety of style! There's the uptempo You Are My Beloved Child, the gentle and beautiful Because of the Lord's Great Love, and gospel beat of Let's Not Go Back to Egypt. Arise Shine and All Who Are Born of the Spirit are particularly suitable for group/congregational singing. There's even a country flavour on You Are the Lord. I Belong on the other hand has more of a rock groove - in a style that reminded me of the work of Mark Heard - a worthy musical role model. This is several notches above average CCM fare, with something for meditation, reflection, congegational singing and even dancing!
Kathy Mattea (Narada)

Mattea is a highly regarded country/folk singer and this is one of her best albums. The songs are fine and the instrumentation superb, especially the tasty guitar work. As always Mattea sings with confidence and passion. This time, on many tracks, she turns her attention to spiritual matters. That's All the Lumber You Sent, the opening track is a clever song about string up treasures in Heaven - a man gets a surprise at how little good he has done in life. Junkyard warns against filling our minds and souls with rubbish - "My heart is not a dump for all the gunk around". "They Are the Roses" reflects on the innocence of children, while Who We Are is a touching but gritty song about a mother-daughter relationship that's rather fractious. Till I Turn to You is a heartfelt prayer to God for drastic action to get the writer back on track - I was remided of John Donne's poem Batter My Heart. Mattea herself co-wrote the final track The Slender Threads that Bind Us Here, a tender song about the fragility of life and the loving connections we make. Samples, reviews and buying options at Amazon - click here.

Love Casts Out Fear
The Passionists

This CD of sacred music by the Passionists was produced and directed by Rev David Cunningham CP, and proceeds go to the Tobar Mhuire Crossgar building fund. The cause is good, and so is the music! From the first track you know that this isn't going to be a typical album of monks singing plain chant. There are some electronic effects and instrumentation, some female voices, a variety of liturgical styles and quite a distinctive use of bells! Sometimes accompaniment is sparse, sometimes there's what sounds like a small orchestral ensemble. With 18 tracks this is also a fine resource for choirs and schools. Thankfully the album mostly avoids overly familiar material, the best known probably being Salve Regina. Standout for me was the title track, with its haunting refrain. Perhaps it's monastic collegiality or humility but I woould have liked more comprehensive sleeve notes - on the hymns themselves and on the many skilled performers. You can purchase, and hear samples from the album and from other Passionist CDs here.
Songs of Praise @ 12.30 Vol 1

It's great to see local groups producing their own albums. This one features the music and soloists of the 12.30 pm Sunday Mass at St Patrick's Church, Trim, Co. Meath. The material is largely familiar, but tastefully chosen - The Deer's Cry by Shaun Davey, Only in God by John Michael Talbot, Voice of an Angel by Liam Lawton, and my favourite track, Stand by Me written by Tom Kendzia. The classical tradition gets a look in with Schubert's Ave Maria and Beethoven's Joyful, Joyful. On first listening I found the musical accompaniment rather sparse (mostly guitar and keyboard)and wished for a fuller sound, but the album is growing on me. For example I was hoping for a more choral approach on the chorus of Stand By Me, but the approach on the album is very deliberate, as explained on the sleeve notes: "superb singers, singing prayers from the heart and with minimal musical accompaniment - something which is at the heart of our service to the Mass". In praise of The Word, it's entirely apt that the words of these prayer songs should be the focus of the album. And because of this the album is also particularly suitable for private prayer and meditation.

Nothing Left to Say
by Nigel Connell (Burnell Records)

This is a really strong album from a relatively new performer with a great voice and great songwriting ability. Listening to it several times singers like Neil Diamond, Dan Fogelberg and Michael Card came to mind. Connel has played with Liam Lawton among others and includes two of Lawton's songs here, All this Time and Could It Be. In the latter song there's a line "Could it be that God would hear my song?" - the answer must surely be yes. If God has a CD collection (as a proud parent might keep their children's artwork) this will be in it! Connell's voice is what impresses most at first and passes the test set by the vocally demanding Carrickfergus. However it's the original songs on the album that ultimately are what make it special. They are strong, well written and melodic. I wouldn't be surprised if some became much covered by other artists. In My Heart is a song of loneliness and yet of hope; the delicacy and vulnerability of love is captured in Nothing Left to Say; Keela Mae, about a young girl who died and speaks from heaven, is a tad too sentimental, and I'm not a fan of spoken introductions
, but judging by the dedication this song has a personal resonance for Connell. Apart from that caveat it's a definite thumbs up for this album. Sample tracks on the artist's website.

Doing Their Thing
by The Dublin Gospel Choir

DGC has to be the busiest gospel choir in the country, and here they are with a new album. What I liked about this was the variety of material, and the fact that much of it was unfamiliar (to me, at least) material. And where it was familiar, as with Here I Am Lord and Make Me a Channel, DGC have done something different with it. That being said I'm not sure I'm that enthusiastic about these new arrangements, but I'd say they'd go down well with young people. Listening to the album at first I felt it was too much in the funk/soul vein for my liking, with a lot of electronic instrumentation, but it's growing on me, and there are plenty of more traditional gospel tracks. Vocals are quite strong, and the choir has some excellent solo singers - I was particularly taken with Something So Wonderful, with Anna Carey on lead vocals. Liberty Bell has also been released as a single, and it's distinctly Irish flavour and references also make it stand out. Good to see some modrn gospel songs by Kirk Franklin - of these My Love, My Life, My All is a standout track. For more info and sample tracks click here.
Songs of Inspiration: The Dream
by Fr Marino Nguekam

What's striking about this album is the fine and distinctive voice of Fr Marino Nguekam. A priest from Cameroon who is currently ministering in Ireland, Fr Marino gives soulful and meaningful renditions of popular songs like Ave Maria, Bring Him Home, O Holy Night, Danny Boy and the ubiquitous You Raise Me Up. A few Liam Lawton songs feature also - Cloud's Veil and Voice of an Angel are given the Marino touch, but my favourites were John Michael Talbot's The Magnificat and Only in God. You'd have to try hard not to be moved by these. You've Got a Friend and Let it Be are unusual additions, but they certainly fit the bill of "Songs of Inspiration". Choir directors, including in schools will find lots of useful material here, and some of the material would be suitable for prayer/meditation services in school prayer rooms. The album's main problem is that all of the material is so familiar. Next time I'd like to see Fr Marino trying some less familiar material, for example some lesser known spiritual material, and perhaps some from his native country. In the meantime check out the website: for information and videos.
Responsorial Psalms for Advent and Christmas
by Brian J. Nelson
(Nelson Music)
This professionally produced collection will be a substantial resource to choir directors who want to try something different during Advent and Christmas. The album comprises 15 Responsorial Psalms based on the lectionary for the season, settings composed by Brian J Nelson from the University of Kansas. The arrangements are straightforward, with cantors, choir and organ - my personal preference is for the rich voice of the male cantor David Adams, and he features on my favourite tracks - A Light Will Shine on Us This Day, Lord Come and Save Us and Lord Every Nation on Earth on Earth Will Adore You. It's not a CD I'd throw into the car for entertainment and I'm sure that's not what this album is trying to achieve, but it certainly is useful for personal prayer in quiet moments - the repetition of the responses particularly useful for this. And it helps that the psalms are not exclusively applicable to Advent and Christmas - these can inspire any time of year, so I won't be storing this album away with my Christmas CDs. For more background and information, and a chance to listen to some samples go to
by the Castlebar Gospel Choir

Any Music or RE teacher will find lots of useful material in the CD from the Castlebar Gospel Choir. Choice of music and performance is excellent, while production values are high. Some tracks are more "gospel" than others, but tracks like Let Nobody Turn You Around and O Healing River leave no doubt about the choir's gospel credentials. Ironically one of the standout tracks for me was the least gospel in style - more folky in flavour Tom Kendzia's Stand By Me is given a really moving treatment and would be particularly suitable for school use. Instrumentation is sparse, but the piano playing is spot on and never overwhelms the vocals. Hank Williams' I Saw the Light features bouncy piano and as I'm more to that in country/bluegrass style it took some getting used to and wasn't one of the stronger tracks. Congrats to conductor Niamh O'Kelly and her soloists for a fine album, the proceeds of which go to the Simon Community.

Our God is Near
by Monica Brown
Our God is Near is a joyful, colourful, entertaining play celebrating the real meaning and spirit of Christmas. Written by Monica Brown this play is suitable for Junior and Senior Primary children. It incorporates a beautiful collection of hymns and songs for Advent/Christmas. Monica uses scripture imaging of Advent and Christmas and presents it in a language and melody that children can appreciate. In our school before Christmas 2009, two fourth classes performed this play for their parents. As the children engaged in drama, mime, dance and song, the play proved to be a deeply touching, moving and heartwarming celebration. As the children were drawn into reflection on the mystery of God in their own lives they were enabled to sing with joy and understanding of the wonderful Advent/Christmas story. More info, ordering and audio samples here.

Review by Bridget Clare

Healing Song
By Liam Lawton (Gia)

Healing Song (2009) is the first completely liturgical collection of music released by Irish composer Liam Lawton in about ten years. Liam's intention in creating this body of work was to produce a very high quality collection of music for use in church services and spiritual occasions. But on top of this he also wanted to create a collection of beautiful songs for anyone to use in their own personal reflection, and I believe he has succeeded so beautifully in both areas. Within this new collection we find again some of Liam Lawton's most wonderful melodies which he is so well known for, graced with beautiful heartfelt lyrics, some of which are based on well known and loved scripture texts.
The theme running through this collection is healing….. healing from loss and grief, healing in relationships, healing through the Eucharist , healing for those burdened. In Liam Lawton's quest to create a high quality liturgical collection, he has used some the finest of ingredients. Paul Tate, well know for his beautiful arrangements worked on this collection with Liam. The orchestral parts were recorded in Prague with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. St Colman's Cathedral Choir of Cobh (Cork), a very well respected choir with much experience in Ireland and abroad, and under the direction of Dominic Finn, worked with Liam also on this. The production was done by Mark Cahill, who has been Liam's producer on all of his recent releases, of which some have topped the charts.
There are 12 pieces in the Healing Song collection. 'Sing Alleluia' opens the set, and its most beautiful and pleading violin intro really stirs the soul to rise up and march for Our God….. beautiful. In our search for healing in many areas of our life, we can feel the need to be comforted in some way, and Liam's songs can certainly feel as if they wrap themselves around you for support. This is felt in pieces like.. 'The Beginning and the End' …'Yours'….'Silence and Peace'…. 'There are Many Rooms' …… 'You are My Shepherd' (one of my favourites)….. 'Where two or Three are Gathered'. 'Heal Us Lord' is the signature piece on this collection. This is truly a most beautiful piece. Liam sings with such a longing for God to hear our call, and it feels like his love of God in his voice and music is creating some bond between Heaven and Earth, which the Lord will work through……. This heard in concert and with everyone united in song is amazing.
There is one commissioned piece on this collection - 'Come to Me' was written for the canonization of St Charles of Mt Argus in Dublin in 2007. It is so appropriate for this piece to be on this collection, as St Charles was and is known for his intercession of healing. Another big one on the collection is 'Live to be Holy'. This is based on the 'Song of Songs' and it is really a most beautiful piece about living humbly for God and being in love with God.

review by Yvonne Walsh

Sacred Hymns Collection
by L'Angélus (Cajun Records)

This is a beautiful collection of mostly traditional hymns done in a modern style which enhances and revitalises the material. L'Angelus is the Rees family group from USA who mainly play in Cajun style, but there's quite a diversity on this album. The best tracks are those where the group is comfortably in the folk/bluegrass/Cajun genre. Throughout the singing and playing is top notch and there is a strong sense that they believe sincerely in the words they sing. Standout tracks include the catchy This Day God Gives to Me, credited to St Patrick, and Be Thou My Vision which shows they've been delving to great effect in the Celtic tradition. The French Cajun tradition is seen in the spiritual waltz about Our Lady J'Irai La Voir Un Jour, which features some great piano playing. This devotion to Mary is also shown in Ave Maria, and Sing of Mary. Some of the better known hymns, like Ave Maria and Salve Regina are well performed but only in a very traditional fashion, which doesn't give them the necessary edge - this is particularly true of Holy God We Praise Thy Name which gets a rather flat and uninspired arrangement.
Samples of the tracks can be heard here.

Come Darkness, Come Light - Twelve Songs of Christmas
by Mary Chapin Carpenter (Rounder)

Mary Chapin Carpenter has long been one of my favourite singers so I was thrilled when I heard she was working on a Christmas album. The finished product does not disappoint - this is a work of beauty. It has all her trademark features - personal, reflective and intimate, with every word coming across crystal clear and musical arrangements (especially tasteful guitar and piano) that complement rather than overwhelm the songs.
What I look for in a new Christmas album is a combination of Christmas favourites being given a new lease of live and new songs that capture the spirit of the season. This album scores highly on all fronts. The album opens with a Christmas song that I've rarely seen on other contemporary Christmas albums - this version of Once in Royal David's City may not please the classical purists, but I think it's a refreshing take on the song, with a laid back country/folk stlye that savours every word. Children Go Where I Send Thee is the only other traditional song I was familiar with, and while it's not my favourite this is a fine version.
Come Darkness, Come Light, the self-penned title song, is most infectious with its Allelluia refrain and welcoming message - "Come running, come walking slow/Come weary on your broken road/Come see Him and shed your heavy load/Alleluia". Candlelight Carol, by John Rutter is a soothing Chrismas lullaby - "Nations proclaim him their Lord and their Saviour/But Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep". There's plenty of seasonal nostalgia too in songs like the cosy Hot Buttered Rum and Christmas Time in the City. Thanksgiving Song, another Carpenter original, speaks for itself, a song of gratitude and welcome as family gathers - "Grateful for what's understood/And all that is forgiven ... Let grateful days be endless". I feel that Christmas Carol is the most personal song on the album - with it's Christmas joy and its shadows also - "The earlier it gets each year/The scarcer is my Christmas cheer" - I can relate to that! There's a yearning for peace - "I pray that peace comes in our time/It's hard enough to keep from crying/When every bit of news just breaks your heart".
As should be obvious by now the album is certainly Christian in its outlook and imagery, but in this song she says she hasn't "been to church since God knows when", but this doesn't come across as a sour note, or any fashionable distancing from religion. If that's where she's at that's where she's at. Maybe the next step will be a rediscovery of the community element that church going brings.

Samples of these songs can be heard at Amazon here. Click play button on left.

If Love Could Say God's Name
by Beth Nielsen Chapman
(BNC Records)
This DVD is special on so many levels. It features Beth Nielsen Chapman in a live concert from St Paul’s Cathedral, London, with the London Oriana Choir. It’s a collection of spiritual songs, sung with infectious gusto, enthusiasm, respect and inspiration. Beth’s voice has rarely sounded better, and here it is complemented like never before by a truly heavenly choir. This is most striking on her well-known song Colour of Roses – I doubt if fans of the original will be disappointed. Then there is the opening song, with the rather unusual title Prayers of an Atheist. To understand this it helps to refer to a comment she made in a recent interview – when her husband died, one of the most touching prayers she received as from an atheist friend who offered up whatever prayers he could muster. She felt that this prayer had the longest distance to travel. As she says in the song, even the prayers of an atheist can find their way back home. There are familiar songs that seem somehow refreshed by these performances – (Amazing Grace, Ave Maria, Steal Away), and some culturally diverse material like the African flavoured Massibulele, and the Jewish Shalom Alecheim. This is not just a concert however, in fact it’s more of a worship service – between the songs we get scriptural readings and readings from Nobel Peace Prize winners like Bishop Tutu and Jody Williams – the event was in aid of Peace Jam, which seeks to bring teens together with Nobel Peace Prize winners. On the DVD there’s also a short “Behind the Scenes” film which helps our understanding of the event. The sound for the readings could be better, and some of the camera angles are limited, but these are just small quibbles – overall this is a beautiful work of art.

Men and Angels Say
by Ashley Cleveland
( Rambler Records)

If you like your rock gospel heavy and your trad gospel soulful you couldn't do much beter than Ashley Cleveland, a highly regarded singer not that well known on this side of the Atlantic. Her strong voice exudes commitment and sincerity and is used to great advantage on this her latest album, in which puts her own distinctive stamp on some older hymns. One of my favourites is a rocked up version of Christ the Lord is Risen Today (she sounds really glad that He is risen) which, with her Holy, Holy, Holy, would suit school prayer services - to send the students away with a spring in their steps. For those wanting some relatively quieter, more reflective material Precious Lord and Surely Goodness and Mercy should satisfy. You can hear samples of all the songs on the artist's website.

Voice of Hope
by Tommy Fleming
(Dara Records)

Spiritual music has been gaining more acceptance in the mainstream music scene in recent years, and here's another fine example - a Tommy Fleming double album, unique in many ways, not least for being recorded in the Basilica in Knock. Tommy is The Voice - full of strength and committment, a style eminently suitable to inspirational material. If his aim is to present familiar inspirational songs the venture is a success - we get From a Distance, Morning Has Broken, Ave Maria, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Amazing Grace and many more, but perhaps therein lies a question - why revisit so many songs that have been so well covered in the past? The songs are so good, and done so well here, that familiarity won't breed contempt, but a more adventurous approach would have been welcome. From that point of view it's good to see inclusions like Jimmy McCarthy's mystical Bright Blue Rose, and Beth Nielsen Chapman's poignant Sand and Water. I'd love to have more contemporary Irish spiritual songs, but maybe next time! The CD also contains 4 bounus studio tracks, Tommy on more familiar ground with well crafted contemorary roots songs, including the thought provoking parenting song Things We've Handed Down, by Marc Cohn. I'm looking forward to seeing the DVD.

Another Day's Journey
by Eleanor Shanley and Ivan Leparr
(Hummingbird Records)

Shanley, an Irish folk singer, and Leparr, an American Gospel singer first met on a gospel project when Shanley was singing with Dé Danann, and what a fortuitous meeting! They have produced a most striking album, unique among recent Irish releases.
There's gospel or social comment on most tracks and all are sung as solos are duets with undoubted conviction. Thankfully the voices are complimented rather than drowned by the backing music - strong on uncluttered piano and guitar.
Among the standout tracks are Give Me a Clean Heart, which would be at home in a prayer service or in a discussion on the theme of forgiveness, and Drifting Too Far From the Shore, also suitable for a meditative setting.
Shanley's voice, with its sense of yearning and sincerity, is most suited to these slow songs (particular strong on Jimmy Cliff's Too Many Rivers to Cross), but the up tempo numbers are worth a listen also, from the opening track, Bob Dylan's License to Kill,through Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody, to the more familiar Heaven Help Us All, by Ron Miller. Just a few small qualms: I can't quite take to Leparr's version of Que Sera Sera, and the sleeve notes could be more comprehensive - no musicians listed by instrument and no lyrics (most can be easily found on the web), but Leparr's dedication is worth quoting from: "I would like to thank God for the opportunity to bring uplifting and hopefully exciting music to all who care to listen".

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2

New releases from U2 are always of interest for spiritual content and this one is no exception.
The most overtly religious track is Yahweh, a striking prayer song that will find plenty of use in prayer services and in classroom discussion - the lyrics are rich in ideas and imagery - "Take these hands, teach them what to carry, Take these hands, Don't make a fist".
The spiritual content of the other tracks may not be quite so obvious, but it's there - in Vertigo: "And though your soul it can't be bought/Your mind can wander". There's a hint of Jesus' desert temptation ("All of this can be yours"), before the positive ending: "Your love is teaching me how, how to kneel", a motif picked up again in Love and Peace Or Else: "I'm not easy on my knees". There's another hint of scripture in Miracle Drug: "I hear a voice/It's whispering/In science and medicine/'I was a stranger and you took me in'". There's a belief in mature love - Love and logic keep us clear/Reason is on our side love", a theme taken up again in A Man and a Woman "I could never take a chance/Of losing love to find romance". Crumbs From Your Table shows the social awareness we have come to expect from Bono - "Where you live should not decide/Whether you live or whether you die", but it is not overly preachy and the imagery does not yield up its meaning easily.
Bono is often accused of egotism, but there's a nice ironic undercutting of this image in Original of the Species: "Some things you shouldn't get too good at/Like smiling, crying and celebrity", and back in Yahweh: "Take this mouth/So quick to criticise".
Musically it's the familiar U2 sound, distinctive if not too adventurous. Most of the words are clear enough but it does help to have the lyrics printed on the sleeve. There's plenty of food for thought here, from a mature rock band whose creativity shows no sign of waning.

by The Monks of Glenstal Abbey
(Hummingbird Records)

Fans of the music made by the Monks of Glenstal Abbey knoiw what sound to expect from this collection and they won't be disappointed by this collection of 21 chants hymns and meditations.
Nóirin Ní Riain guests on the album - she has a particular love for singing with these monks, and doubles as producer. Also guesting this time are singer Sinéad O'Connor and writer John O'Donohue. O'Connor's voice is distinctive and at times unnerving, while Ní Riain's is more soothing.
Some of the chants are plain, but there's harmony as well - heard to greatest effect on the beautiful Beatitudes, which should become a useful resource when the Beatitudes are being taught or meditated upon. Significantly this track figures prominently in the publicity for this CD.
There are many Christmas songs - The Coventry Carol, Christmas Day is Come, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, for example, and many are in Latin - Viri Galilae, Spiritus Sanctus, and Regina Caeli, among others.
Musical accompaniment is either non-existent or sparse - it's all in the voice, the "sound of the Spirit" as the CD's subtitle has it. The sleeve notes pursue the issue: "The voices you hear are singing with each other but beyond themselves". The reflections of Mark Patrick Hederman OSB, on the CD, develop the ideas further - for example in The Holy Spirit is the Air We Breathe he says: "Each of these singers is somehow being sung … these singers are holding open a space for the Spirit of God to be heard …the Holy Spirit is the air we breathe".

Hymns by Beth Nielsen Chapman

How is this for a surprise - a prominent American country/folk singer whose songs have been recorded by some of her most famous contemporaries releases a new album - of old Catholic hymns, most of them in Latin!
Beth Nielsen Chapman has just released a mainstream album, Look, but has still found time for this Hymns project - a CD of rare beauty - from the cover design to the intricate harmonies and subtle musical arrangements.
Beth Nielsen Chapman, whose mainstream work has often included spiritual themes, was brought up Catholic and obviously has fond memories of the hymns of her childhood. She was finding it hard to get good recordings of these so she recorded them herself, to our great benefit.
Many readers will remember Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris Hostia from the benediction ceremonies, and here they are given vibrant new life by Chapman's beautiful voice and really striking harmonies. Only those who insist on unison singing will be disappointed, but personally I feel that such harmony singing is an intimation of the glory of Heaven. The benediction songs are unaccompanied, as are Panis Angelicus, Adoramus Te, and Salve Regina (younger readers might remember it from the film Sister Act). Where there is musical accompaniment it is often a subtle Spanish guitar in the style of John Michael Talbot, as in the opening track Ave Verum Corpus which won this well-disposed listener over immediately.
There's one Christmas track, Veni Veni Emmanuel, which makes me hope that Chapman will some day release her own Christmas album, but a few of the tracks are in English - there's my personal favourite Oh God of Loveliness, with words by St Lafonso Liguori set to a traditional melody, a moving musical prayer that I last heard in a recording from the seventies by Jennifer Warnes, another inspiring voice. Chapman has included one of her own songs, Hymn to Mary, a touching and very personal prayer with harp, cello and strings accompaniment.
Those who listen to the end of the CD, as I'm sure all will, are in for yet another surprise - a hidden track, Ave Maria, that was previously available on a now deleted compilation album. I had the pleasure of hearing her sing this live at a concert in Vicar St, Dublin, a few years ago, a performance of sincerity that I will long remember. This album will be followed by a collection of world hymns from other religious traditions, and is available on the Sanctuary label, and from the artist's website -