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Clannad - Clannad CD (album) cover

CLANNAD

Clannad

 

Prog Folk

4.43 | 9 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

kenethlevine
Special Collaborator
Prog-Folk Team
5 stars While the British Isles counterpart to American folk rock had sprung up dramatically in the late 1960s and early 1970s, spearheaded by several classics by FAIRPORT CONVENTION and PENTANGLE among others, all the major acts were singing in some variant of olde or new English. In the meanwhile, in county Donegal, Ireland, a group of 3 siblings and their two twin uncles was attentively absorbing those sounds and nurturing their own. That idiosyncratic style was based in large part in the use of native Gaelic in most of their repertoire. After winning a local music competition in 1970 they were tendered an offer to record with the Irish branch of the Phillips label, who were nonetheless nonplussed by the preponderance of non English lyrics. As a result, it took 3 years before the execs would relent and allow this landmark debut to see the light of a misty day.

Even accepting the fledgling band's stability at this early stage, "Clannad" is an uncommonly well seasoned inaugural album. Perhaps sensing that their recording lives might be brief, they plucked the best of breed from their 500 song canon, so the breadth of material here is wider than at any other point during their initial run. Particularly noteworthy are the excursions into jazz folk a la Pentangle, conjured by Maire's Jacqui McShee like vocals and Ciaran's double bass, both of which would become a staple of their sound. While "Níl Sé Ina La" openly shares this fascination, "Siobhan Ni Dhuibhir" does so more subtly within a rigid Celtic folk framework.

One aspect of Clannad's sound that diverges from the "trad arr" of most bands of their ilk is the absence of fiddles, with Paul Brennan's flute or Maire Brennan's harp tending to carry the melody that would otherwise be relegated to the violins. Moreover, Clannad rarely contents themselves with ad nauseum repetition of jigs and reels played at breakneck speed to impress their audience, preferring slow airs sporting more delicate blown or plucked motifs for attenuated instrumentals or breaks within often forlorn ballads. The instrumental "Mrs McDermott" is precisely the template for the elegance that is Clannad, while the sweet "The Pretty Maid" speaks to their grasp of the heart and what makes its strings bough.

The album closes with an oft covered song called "Morning Dew", which was written by Canadian folksinger Bonnie Dobson and popularized by the GRATEFUL DEAD among others, its post apocalyptic imagery at odds with its pastoral mood and veneer of the purity of the dew. Maire's interpretation over finespun acoustic guitar and exquisitely spare harmonies is complemented by a flute solo with timid piano accompaniment.

The cachet of this first Clannad album has been up sold over the years by its rarity, first as a hard to find LP without CD re release, then as a CD that just never seems to be available, and by the likelihood that many fans have never heard it. However, it largely merits the secretive whispers it invokes, with its only flaw being its eclecticism. In the prog world, that's an advantage, and while this isn't a prog rock classic in any conventional sense, it's a fulfillment of a family mission on par with that of ALAN STIVELL across the channel, stoked by its ongoing relevance in the decades since.

kenethlevine | 5/5 |

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