(ARC, 2013)

This album, their 18th, is Clannad's first disc of new music since 1998. Actually, to say "new music" when referring to Clannad sounds wrong, since the band serves up music that, no matter how recently composed, sounds instantly old. Still, there's only two traditional songs on the album, one of which, "Citi na Cumann," closes out the set.

The band, still made up of the three Brennan siblings, Moya, Cairan and Pol, along with their uncles Noel and Padraig Duggan -- sister Enya struck out on her own a long time ago -- still sounds vital and, in a quiet way, dynamic. They sound almost the way they did back in the 1980s and '90s but have lost the new-age mystical aspect of their music that they used to play around with.

Now, they are centered more on folk and Celtic stuff, and as far as I'm concerned are much better off for it. Their sound is lush, especially on the instrumentals, and everything, vocal and instrumental alike, is as smooth and polished as a cultured pearl. The songs jaunt along, bounce like balls, the percussion popping, the basses driving the beat, the guitars and the mandola pulsing the rhythm and the flutes floating over it all like tiny elemental creatures from the shires. It's a wonderful sound, a little updated from their earlier albums but familiar enough for you to feel at home.

As for the vocals, well, Moya Brennan can sing the paint off a barn. Her voice glides through the songs like an fairy through the air. Most of the songs are in Gaelic, so for those of us who don't speak the language, her vocal is another lead instrument and you are able to concentrate on the music of her voice instead of the lyrics. The only problem is that when she sings in English, she can still sound as though she's singing in a foreign language; her brogue means she can be hard to understand.

Still, Clannad is about music, not words. Over repeated listenings, the English lyrics become clear and, if you're not going to give them repeated listenings, this band isn't for you anyway.

My response to Clannad's first new album in a decade and a half? Welcome back. Keep 'em coming.

At your own pace, of course.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

8 February 2014

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