We Banjo 3's "A Winter Wonderful" album is made up of eight fantastic holiday-related tracks. It begins on a high note, with John Prine's "Christmas in Prison," and its spirit never lags the whole rest of the way through. Comprised of two sets of brothers (Enda and Fergal Scahill and Martin and David Howley), these Galway, Ireland traditional musicians have created one artistic seasonal release.
The act deserves bonus points for making that old Christmas warhorse, "Little Drummer Boy," both listenable and enjoyable. They accomplish this feat by keeping it an instrumental (lots of banjo on this one), and focusing on the melody, rather than overdoing percussion (as far too many others have done). The quartet also earns kudos for including the relatively unfamiliar Chris Rea song "Driving Home For Christmas." These two tracks alone set "A Winter Wonderful" apart from so many other predictable holiday projects.
Although we know many of the words to "Joy To The World," the group's arrangement of this hymn, especially its fiddle and banjo parts, make it uniquely We Banjo 3's own. "Silver Bells" features a vocal, unlike many of the other album tracks, and is lovably folky and country.
This album is like the difference between a bike and the latest gizmo, as gifts for Christmas. While the newest electrical do-dads may be cool for a season, bikes will please and satisfy recipients – probably forever. Similarly, We Banjo 3's winter wonder collection succeeds without applying a bunch of special effects. Instead, acoustic instruments, skilled playing and especially creative arranging should make this release a pleasant listening experience for many years to come.