Wed, Dec 5, 2012.
One bit of the magic of Christmas is that it can bring families together that have been apart. Well, The Ennis Sisters haven't really been apart as family, they are still as close as ever. But it's been a few years since they've been together as a group. It's been Ennis only since 2007, when sister Teresa left the fold, with Maureen and Karen continuing on with the shortened name. But the idea of doing another Christmas album, their second, after 1998's Christmas on Ennis Road, was enough of a temptation to bring back the old name, and put the three sisters back behind the microphones together. The result is the new It's Christmas collection.
Nothing sounds better than siblings singing. Two, like the Everly Brothers, is great. Three is just as special, maybe more so. Maureen usually handles the lead vocals, and that's the case here, on all but one of the tracks, with Karen and Teresa chiming in almost all the time. When you've got the voices, you might as well use them, and harmonies abound on this disc, as plentiful as snowflakes. Teresa gets to do a lead of her own, a nice welcome back for her, on The Peace Carol. As strong as the last two Ennis albums have been, the group is different with her in it, and I've missed hearing her sound, distinct from her sisters, more mellow.
The key to a good Christmas album, I figure, is this question: Does it have it's own stamp? Is it different from others, or is it the same old songs recycled? And if there are originals, do they stand up to the high standards we have for Christmas songs? Well, the sisters have delivered using these standards. Aside from quite a different arrangement of the traditional The Holly And The Ivy, I didn't know any of the songs on the album. There are some well-chosen and not widely-heard covers, which they must have dug deep for. And there are five brand-new songs, written by Maureen, and producer and significant other Mark Murphy. The title track is a bouncy pop-Celtic number, with a great chorus and lots of hooks, a real charmer that should be played for years to come. Another original is something very rare, a sad Christmas song, about a break-up, called My First Christmas, somebody facing their first holiday season without their love, and missing them really badly. I can't think of another tune like it, and it's handled really well - "It's my favourite time of year, but I turn and you're not here." That's a powerful one.
Oh, but don't worry, it's the only sad touch here, and you'll find everything from religious numbers to light-hearted fare for kids, all with that typical Ennis touch, lots of acoustic music including Karen's tin whistles and flutes, and strong backing by a host of fine traditional players. But above it all, the voices fly, sounding like...well, angels.
The reunion didn't stop in the studio. Right now the trio are out on the road, on a huge tour of every decent-sized town in Newfoundland and Labrador, celebrating Christmas at home with sold-out shows. As for the future of the group, Karen and Maureen have a busy year planned of touring for 2013, and Teresa says her participation is just for this tour and record at this time. But ..she does add, it's great to be back...even for one project...for now.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).