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The Barra MacNeils release third Christmas album, touring the country

The Cape Breton Post

Tour lands in Mabou Thursday, Glace Bay on Sunday

SYDNEY — The Barra MacNeils looked to their musical friends for inspiration on their latest Christmas album.

“O Christmas Three,” a play on the fact that it’s their third seasonal recording, was released earlier this month, and the Sydney Mines siblings have hit the road in support of it — continuing a longstanding holiday touring tradition for the band.”It really is a fun tour to do and it’s nice that people seem to be really enjoying the new material from ‘O Christmas Three’,” said band member Stewart MacNeil, noting the new album is very much in line with their first two holiday recordings “Christmas Album I” and “Christmas Album II”.

“It has a lot of the same feels — there’s some tracks that are live party settings and some a cappella music and some Gaelic music but I do enjoy that there is so much Cape Breton content on this one including a song (“A-Walkin’ Christmas Morning”) by Ken Chisholm and of course there’s a tribute to Rita MacNeil on the album with “For Mary For Joseph” which is one of my favourite Christmas songs from Rita. It’s probably a little lesser known than the big hits but it’s just such a powerful song and a testament to the great songs that Rita has left us.”

Also included on the album is fellow Sydney Mines native Bruce Guthro’s “Bound for Bethlehem,” Ron Sexsmith’s “Maybe this Christmas,” “Miners’ First Noel” by Bob Quinn, and “Christmas Belongs to Children” which Stewart co-wrote in the 1980s with his late uncle Charlie MacKenzie from Washabuck.

“It’s one we’ve played a bit and I think we actually performed on Christmas Daddies back around that time, but this third time around (doing a Christmas album) we seemed to find an arrangement and structure in the song that gave it what it needed,” he said. “I really enjoy the sentiment in it. It’s just lovely to sing.”

Now in their 26th year as a group, things are a little bit different on this tour for the MacNeil siblings — Stewart, Lucy, Sheumas, Kyle, and Boyd — as the sixth member, brother Ryan, is not on the road this time around.

“He’s living in P.E.I. at the moment and he’s taking time off from touring with the band,” explained Stewart, noting it was nice to have him join them on stage for their tour date in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

This year’s Barras tour has been extensive, beginning in November and including a date at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto with special guests Joel Plaskett, Jenn Grant and fellow Cape Breton entertainers Bette MacDonald and Maynard Morrison.

Stewart said they’re really looking forward to getting back to Cape Breton as their Christmas tour comes to an end later this week. The Barra MacNeils will perform Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Strathspey Place in Mabou, and Sunday at 3 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. at the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay.

“It’s nice because it’s very much a tradition for us to finish off the tour on the East Coast and it’s great to see everybody. Usually most people have most of their stuff done and it kicks off the Christmas season for a lot of folks,” he said.

Tickets to the show in Mabou are $35 in advance and $40 the day of the show and are available through the Strathspey Place box office, which can be reached by phone at 945-5300. Tickets to the performances in Glace Bay are $39.50 and are available through the Savoy box office at 842-1577 or online at