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Clannad - Macalla CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.31 | 21 ratings

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4 stars Clannad were heading onto new musical frontiers in 1985 with Macalla: Simply put, they were building the bridge over a chasm between the world of late twentieth century rock and pop music forms, and that of ancient celtic (Irish, to be specific) folk music. This disc boasts a couple of first-time collaborations, both with Bono (of U2) and also with Mel Collins (of Camel and King Crimson fame), and both of them are used to great effect. The partnering of Maire Brennan's usual vocals with those of guest Bono on "In A Lifetime" speaks to the group's heading more toward rock music than they had before, whereas their inclusion of Collins on various tracks indicates they were also making a stab in a proggy direction (even if somewhat in an 80's pop/synth idiom reminiscent of MARILLION's Misplaced Childhood , published the same year). Still other songs, such as "Closer To Your Heart" point in the direction of light-hearted pop music.

Although as an Irish folk group Clannad been around since the early 1970's and were already acclaimed in their own homeland of Ireland, they'd just recently garnered sudden, huge international attention for the beautiful, ethereal soundtrack tune "Theme From Harry's Game" . In a curious turn away from what their musical character had been heretofore, they then made Macalla with as close as they would ever get to a straight-ahead soft rock sound. It's worth noting that Clannad's previous albums had mostly been anchored in tasteful folk-rock arrangements of ancient Irish ballads and jigs, though they sometimes -- seemingly very cautiously -- could be caught approaching the world of jazz-rock jams and peppering their records with their own sprightly compositions at various points between.

We still get a bit of the traditional Irish angle on this record in songs such as "Caislean Oir" and "Buachaill On Eirne", with lead vocalist Maire Brennan singing in that almost-extinct, ancient Irish language still spoken by the band members (understandable since they are all part of the same extended family and live in the Gaeltacht). Meanwhile, we're serenaded variously by saxophone grooves, acoustic guitars or synth melodies, usually against atmospheric and gentle sonic backdrops. Elsewhere on this record there are frequent and sometimes brash leaps into the pop/synth territory, occasionally maybe sounding a little cheesier than one would like, despite good hooks and a constantly solid sense of melody. In any case however, Maire is an adept lead vocalist who brings the proceedings back to earth, even while sounding the whole time like an angel.

I've owned and loved this record almost since it came out, although I would interpolate its success among prospective fans in the PA community as likely conditional. The music certainly enjoyable by an audience tolerant of Celtic-edged pop and soft rock tendencies. But, if you're expecting anything approaching hard rock or edgey prog ... well, you might be better off leaving this alone. MOSTLY AUTUMN might be more your speed.

Clannad albums before this one are a bit more idiosyncratic (uneven in their production and style, though certainly even in terms of being very soulful, inspired, and very competently composed and performed). If you are looking where to go after or instead of Macalla ... Be advised that 1987's Sirius strayed briefly in a hard rock direction, trying out collaborations with already established stadium rock acts (Bruce Hornsby and Steve Perry of all people!); and then, with Anam and other efforts in the 1990's the band backed off again into the realm of introspective, mellow, but well-produced albums of airy Celtic ballads and soft jazz. Macalla, though, is probably the most accessible for someone sampling the work of Clannad especially if coming from outside of a familiarity with celtic-influenced rock.

CapnBearbossa | 4/5 |


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