Friday, February 7, 2014

The Return of Clannad

By Lahri Bond

Clannad - Nádúr - Arc Music Productions (2013)

Nádúr (pronounced Ned-dur) is the Gaelic word for nature. It is also the name of the new Clannad CD, their first studio recording in fifteen years, and the first album with their full original line-up since 1989. So what does it sound like? Well, Clannad, really, but which Clannad­? They started out in 1970 as a folk band, with slight jazz inclinations, sort of an Irish Pentangle, if you will. Clannad have always been a family band composed of siblings Moya Brennan (Máire Ní Bhraonáin), Ciarán Brennan (Ciarán Ó Braonáin), Pól Brennan (Pól Ó Braonáin), and their twin uncles Noel Duggan (Noel Ó Dúgáin) and Pádraig Duggan (Pádraig Ó Dúgáin). With this line-up they produced a smattering of excellent albums, including the superb Dúlamán (1976). They toured extensively, while establishing themselves as one of the core bands of the 70s Irish music revival, along with The Bothy Band, Planxty, and DeDannan. In 1980 they added their younger sister Eithne Ní Bhraonáin and recorded two fine albums, Crann Úll, and Fuaim (1982), which embraced the addition of electronics, before Eithne shortened her name to the singular and iconic Enya, and took the world by storm with several albums of lovely but light ambient mood music. Magical Ring was released in 1983 and contained a major hit single (in Britain and Europe) in the moody “Theme from Harry’s Game.” It also signaled the first use of excessive reverb on Moya Brennan’s naturally enchanting voice, giving it a breathy, otherworldly feel, and establishing what was to become their trademark “sound.”

In 1984 they reached an even wider audience with Legend, their soundtrack to the BBC series Robin of Sherwood. By the time they released Macalla in 1985, they had morphed into a major pop band with guests like Mel Collins (King Crimson) and Bono (U2) clamoring to play with them.  Several more albums, compilations, and soundtracks followed, and guests as diverse (or perhaps as divergent) as Bruce Hornsby, Steve Perry and J.D. Souther took them farther away from their folk roots. In 1990 Pól Brennan left the band to pursue a solo career, as well as be part of the international trio Trísan. They continued in the 90’s with a handful of nice, but predictable CDs, while Moya Brennan began making solo albums, which echoed Clannad’s lush approach. In 1997 the band decided to officially “take a break,” while Moya continued her solo career. Projects such as her collaboration with Irish singing legends Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (Altan), Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill (The Bothy Band/Relativity), and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill (Coolfin/Donal Lunny) in the super-group T with the Maggies, and her two CDs of Irish harp music with Cormac de Barra has brought her back to her roots.

Some fifteen (and counting), compilation and “best of” Clannad albums attempted to fill  the void in the new millennium, until the five original members appeared on stage together at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow in January 2007. Since then, two live albums have been released, and the band has toured (mostly Europe) intermittently. This brings us to Nádúr, released in Britain in 2013, and America in early 2014. The opening strains of the Gaelic sung “Vellum,” a song about The Book of Kells, demonstrates that Clannad is, indeed, back in fine form. The track sounds like something that could have been on the Magical Ring album, but thankfully with more focus on vocal harmonies rather than studio gimmickry. “Rhapsody na gCrann,” is more aligned with the breezy folk sound of Clannad 2, while “TransAtlantic” the English language song of immigration includes lyrics by noted Irish author Colum McCann based on his Booker Prize nominated novel of the same name. “Turas Dhomsa Chon na Galldachd is a traditional Irish song, sung chant-style, like on their earlier albums, and “Brave Enough” is a powerful duet with the quirky Northern Irish musician Duke Special, and has been released as a single. “Fishing Blues” is perhaps the most surprising song for modern Clannad fans. It is an 60s-style protest song, complete with acoustic guitars, upright bass, wailing harmonica and Moya’s impassioned vocals. A companion song “A Quiet Town” also laments the demise of the fishing trade and it’s affect on Ireland’s economy, people and culture.

Best of all is the welcomed return of Moya’s subtle harp playing  and Pol’s lovely whistle on the instrumental “Lámh ar Lámh,” while the Gaelic-sung “Tobair an tSaoil”  shows that the band can still rock. “A Song In Your Heart” is one of  several songs Moya has penned with her daughter Aisling Jarvis, who is also an accomplished singer and songwriter. “Hymn (To Her Love)” is a heartbreakingly beautiful lament for the earth, penned by Ciarán Brennan, while Pádraig Duggan wrote the atmospheric “Setanta”. The album closes with the incandescent “Citi na gCumann,” where Moya’s voice is particularly expressive and bewitching.

Nádúr is not only the welcomed return of the band Clannad, but the return to the more traditional sound, which has always served them best. You can purchase the album, watch videos and find out more about their North American tour, at

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