A trip to your local church will usually unearth the odd man of the cloth who wishes his vestal garb was a technicolour dreamcoat, but The Priests have taken that ambition one step further. Fathers Eugene and Martin O'Hagan, and Father David Delargy of Ballyclare and Ballygowan have all been singing together since they were nippers, and their exertions have landed them a reputed $2 million record deal with SonyBMG. Temporarily vacating their parishes to record their debut album (which was partly documented in Vatican City, no less – bonus points) with rock producer Mike Hedges, they've also had that subsequent album released simultaneously in an astonishing thirty-odd countries.
That aside, you can guarantee that as sure as day follows night, the Christmas season will see a host of opera and opera-related albums lining the shelves of your local music shop. The distinction between the likes of Il Divo and Paul Potts and this album, however, is that the religious overtones are obviously genuine: hymns like Panis Angelicus and Pie Jesu are wrapped in an authenticity that can't be faked by fame-hungry talent show winners.
Opener Ave Maria, an organic-sounding, unforced reading of the classic aria, is a good barometer of what's to follow: The Priests is largely a collection of beautifully-arranged and mostly understated classical and devotional pieces, with vocals (two tenors, one baritone) that are unremarkable and unmoving at worst, and naturally congruous at best. The song choices, too, are largely less-obvious than the stalwarts than turn up on every similar album: Haydn's regal Mit Wurd und Hoheit Angetan works very well, and the cinematic production on Benedictus breaks up the tedium that the cheesier numbers (Irish Blessing, Abide With Me) induce.
True - at first glance, this album sounds like the premise of an episode of Father Ted. The novelty element is undoubtedly a big factor, but still, it can't detract from the fact that as far as mainstream opera-tunistic endeavours go, it may be a while before The Priests are back behind their respective altars of a Sunday morning.