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I’m not someone who likes most church music. Or rather, most music found in hymnals. Obviously there are exceptions to be made, but I’ve never heard of most of what we wind up singing. Often it’s by the abysmal David Haas or Marty Haugen, whose treacly and sometimes theologically-suspect songs make me want to punch a hippie. If the song has non-English words there had better be a very good reason, and an even better reason if the songwriter is messing around with syntax. There’s a reason the modern worship music at Catholic churches seems to largely written by Evangelicals: the Evangelicals (Hillsong, Delirious, Casting Crowns, etc.) actually write theologically correct (or at least from a Protestant perspective, from a Catholic perspective they’re usually inoffensive) lyrics and write in a way that doesn’t sound like an annoying woman coo-cooing a child.

That said, at Mass for the Immaculate Conception on Monday we sang a song I’d never heard before: “Canticle of the Turning.” I was wary at first: the lyrics were written by someone born in 1952 and “Canticle of the Turning” sounds almost unbearably earnestly liberal. I later found out that the lyricist associates with Marty Haugen a lot, which doesn’t help his case. What made me give it a chance, though was the catchy melody. It turns out that it’s the Irish ballad “Star of the County Down,” and frankly just about anything put to Irish music is going to sound better. Looking over the words, though, I realized that while they may be a little surprisingly revolution-oriented, in the context of a paraphrase of the Magnificat it’s actually appropriate.

Give it a listen. Even if you dislike most modern music it may be an exception.

It also made me aware of “Star of the County Down,” which is very, very catchy and fun to sing. I’ve had it stuck in my head for days now and bought several version of it off iTunes. However, the two versions I like best aren’t available there and are only found on YouTube:

This one, by Serbian Celtic band “Orthodox Celts,” not only does a good job of sounding both classic and modern but also has a great video with a really cute “colleen.”

Completely different is this version done by two English girls calling themselves “Fiomily.” It’s much slower but has “The Mamas & the Papas” -type harmonizing going on. The blonde girl has the better voice and does a good job leading, but the brunette’s harmonizing is amazing and I actually wouldn’t change her timbre if given the chance. If you like their sound, you might also want to try their versions of House of the Rising Sun and California Dreaming.

If you’re going to hit up iTunes, my favorite version of the song are those by The Barley Boys, Emerald Rose, and Jed Marum.

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