Boston-area band Connacht will appear at the Fallout Shelter in Norwood on December 8.
Not surprisingly, holiday-themed events are plentiful this month in the local Irish/Celtic music scene. But here’s one non-conforming concert that deserves notice: Natick-based fiddler Leland Martin will celebrate the official release of his album “Moonlighter” in Harvard Square’s Club Passim on December 14. Martin grew up playing music from Irish, Scottish and other traditions, and along the way became particularly enamored of the Cape Breton style. While most of the material on “Moonlighter” is by Martin or other contemporary composers in those aforementioned traditions, there’s a very New England feel to it – part of the reason being that Martin has been highly influenced by “Ryan’s Mammoth Collection,” a public-domain collection of more than 1,000 fiddle tunes from the New England folk scene in the 19th century. The album also includes collaborations with Conor Hearn, McKinley James, Neil Pearlman and Katie McNally, so one would hope for a guest appearance or two.
As for the seasonal fare at Passim, a cappella close-harmony quartet Windborne will present “Music of Midwinter” on December 6 and 19. Long-time mainstays of the New England folk and traditional music community, Lynn Mahoney Rowan, Will Thomas Rowan, Lauren Breunig and Jeremy Carter-Gordon are as much folklorists as folk singers: conversant in the origins of the songs and the cultures from which these emerged. The four have appeared in “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn,” and at the Blackstone River Theatre, Caffe Lena and the Folk Song Society of Greater Boston.
Perhaps there is some definitive metric that constitutes a "tradition," but the Scottish Fish holiday show at Passim – which takes place on December 22 – surely qualifies by now. The Boston-based fiddle and cello (with occasional keyboard) quintet of Ava Montesi, Caroline Dressler, Julia Homa, Maggie MacPhail, and Giulia Haible has brought its renditions of Scottish and Cape Breton reels, jigs, strathspeys, and the like to greet the season since 2018, and in 2019 released the holiday-themed CD EP "Tidings." Whether it’s traditional or contemporary tunes or their own material, the five play all with imaginative, engaging, and downright fun arrangements.
Ainé Minogue will once again offer her take on seasonal music with two shows, at 5 and 7:30 p.m., on December 23. A native of Tipperary, Minogue is widely recognized as a premier Irish harpist and singer who conveys the lyricism and richness of Irish music, mythology, and poetry, and is attuned to the traditions, rituals, and celebrations associated with the ancient Celtic world. In addition to having released numerous holiday season albums, Minogue won a New England Emmy Best Producer nomination for the “A Winter’s Place” TV special. She will present music of the winter solstice and Christmas, with tunes and carols that have roots in ancient traditions of the British Isles.
•Cape Breton trad power couple Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy come to the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport for “A Celtic Family Christmas” on December 14. Hailing from two legendary family music traditions, fiddlers and step dancers MacMaster and Leahy have now started one of their very own: Their children will join in for a concert of powerful, up-tempo instrumentals as well as intimate, heartfelt melodies.
See rockportmusic.org/natalie-macmaster for details.
•Also making its customary holiday season stop in Greater Boston will be Lúnasa and its layered, harmonically sophisticated, and quite modern treatment of Irish traditional music, marked by precise and polished arrangements yet full of passion and power. They'll be at the Shalin Liu (December 10, at 3 and 7 p.m., rockportmusic.org), the Brian O'Donovan Legacy Series in the Burren Backroom (December 13, 6 p.m., burren.com/music.html) and the Spire Center for Performing Arts in Plymouth (December 16, 8 p.m., spirecenter.org).
•Other Brian O'Donovan Legacy Series events at the Burren will feature a pair of Nova Scotia/Cape Breton acts, starting with Còig (December 3), the trio of Darren McMullen, Rachel Davis and Chrissy Crowley, with special guests Margie Beaton and Thierry Cloette. Còig plays plenty of the tried-and-true Cape Breton marches, strathspeys and reels, but also incorporates Irish, Scottish and even some French-Canadian music. They have a holiday album to their credit, "Carols," and their most recent release, “Ashlar,” saw the band explore further new territory, such as covers of Gordon Lightfoot and Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter Ashley Condon.
Sisters Cassie and Maggie MacDonald arrive on December 20 for their "Very Very Cassie and Maggie Christmas" show. Originally more of an instrumental act in presenting their home island’s distinctive fiddle and stepdance tradition, the pair went in a new direction for their 2016 album “The Willow Collection,” exploring various archives for both Celtic and American folk songs built around themes and symbolism of the willow. Among their honors are Live Ireland Radio Vocalists of the Year, multiple Canadian Folk Music Awards, and the Chicago Irish-American Emerging Artist Recording of the Year.
For tickets and details, go to burren.com/music.html.
•Boston-area quartet Connacht – with guest singers and dancers – is at the Fallout Shelter in Norwood on December 8. The band of Michael McDonagh, Johnny Coe, Wynter Pingel and Stuart Peak represents a mix of playing and performing experience that ranges from pure-drop traditional to ceili band to rock and contemporary folk.
Details and tickets available through www.extendedplaysessions.com.
•Going strong for almost four decades now, Cherish the Ladies will appear on December 14 at the Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley (www.bullrunrestaurant.com) and December at the Spire Center for the Performing Arts in Plymouth (spirecenter.org). The groundbreaking band – co-founders Joannie Madden and Mary Coogan, along with Nollaig Casey, Mirella Murray and Kathleen Boyle – has earned a Grammy nomination as well as such honors as Best Musical Group of the Year (BBC) and Top North American Celtic Group (Irish Music Awards), and to top it off, have a street named for them on the Grand Concourse in Bronx, NY.
•The Irish Cultural Centre of Greater Boston in Canton hosts some accomplished entertainers in early December. Original Celtic Thunder member Paul Byrom – who has pursued a highly successful solo career that includes a PBS special ("This Is the Moment") and commercially successful albums ("Thinking of Home," "What I Did for Love") – will present "Christmas in Canton!" on December 3 from 3-5:30 p.m. On December 9 at 7 p.m., long-time Celtic Woman member Chloë Agnew – who has five solo recordings, including "Love Is Christmas," to her credit – and assorted friends offer up their annual musical Christmas celebration. December 17 at 4:30 p.m. will be "An Irish Christmas Day" with Ishna, which is headed up by husband-wife duo Ciaran Nagle and Tara Novak (both of "Riverdance" and The Three Irish Tenors).
Tickets and other information available via irishculture.org.
•Down on the Cape, the Chatham Fiddle Company will present "A Celtic Christmas Concert" with Rose Clancy, Gene Clancy, Max Cohen, John Alden and Clayton March on December 16 at 8 p.m. at Chatham Drama Guild. Rose Clancy runs the Chatham Fiddle Company, a locus for traditional music lessons, instrument sales and other activities.
See www.chathamfiddlecompany.com for tickets and details.
•The Irish Tenors are at Plymouth Memorial Hall on December 15. Declan Kelly, Anthony Kearns and Ronan Tynan all have individually accomplished careers that have taken them far and wide, and as a trio have 10 best-selling CDs and are a perennial favorite for many PBS viewers. This past year saw them mark their 25th anniversary with a 50-date world tour.