Tuesday, December 27, 2022

CD Odyssey Disc 1610: Maire Brennan

For those of you wondering if I will be posting a list of my Top 10 albums of 2022 this year, fear not – I will be doing exactly that. I am still working through the 80 or so good albums I listened to this year to make the list.

While we wait, here’s a review of an album released way back in 1992 that in no way whatsoever would have made a top 10 list for any year.

Disc 1610 is…Maire

Artist: Maire Brennan

Year of Release: 1992

What’s up with the Cover?  Yech. A gratuitous “look at my baby” picture. I’m sure this is designed to look touching, but I can’t help but wonder if this baby about to bite Maire’s face like some kind of infant vampire.

How I Came To Know It: In the early nineties I was heavily into Celtic folk music. Capercaillie, Clannad and Enya were some of my favourites, but I often scoured the folk and “world” section of the CD store simply looking for songs with Gaelic titles, since I liked the sound of Gaelic.

I had never heard of this record, but it ticked a couple of boxes. First, I knew Maire Brennan (also called Moya) was in Clannad, who I already liked, and second, three of the song listings featured Gaelic. So, despite the disturbing baby photo on the cover, I gave it a shot.

How It Stacks Up: Brennan has over ten records spanning thirty years, but I only have this one. I have a couple Clannad albums with her singing, but I don’t count those.

Ratings: 2 stars

“Maire” is a sleepy album that is suitable for background music if you are shopping for a gift in a curio shop, and not much else. I used to listen to this album back in the early nineties to help me fall asleep. Revisiting it I can see why. Apart from one or two tracks, it is composed of unremarkable, soporific treacle.

The nineties were not known for their production values, but on “Maire” Maire Brennan takes the overly soft, fuzzed out sound to all new lows. Think the musical equivalent of smearing Vaseline on a camera in old movies. It hides defects and makes everything look like a dream. A very boring dream. Brennan’s sister, Enya, takes layered sound and makes it feel otherworldly and fey. On Maire it just strips away any emotional quality to the music.

This is unfortunate, because Brennan (who was one of the lead vocalists for Clannad in their golden days) has a voice that would put a Middle Earth elf maiden to shame. It is feathery and mysterious and has the ability to carry and fill space like a coastal mist, refreshing and beautiful. I love Maire Brennan’s voice, which is why it is so disappointing to have it buried or diffused on so many of these songs.

There are occasions where she lets it shine, most notably on “Oro” a stripped-down tune that showcases her in a way that is sublime. Here there are some layered choral moments, combined with light percussion and production that lets the lead vocal fill in the space. It is everything I liked about this kind of music at the time. “Oro” doesn’t lift your spirit, so much as it encourages it to drift off on a thermal; free and relaxed.

Unfortunately, too often the songs are instead schmalzy and unimaginative. Done well, folk music should feel timeless, but on “Maire they just feel dated. Even songs designed to be topical, such as the environmentally minded, “Voices of the Land,” are awash in excess production. The backing chorus sounds like a children’s choir and was about as welcome as the vampire baby on the cover. Give me a hard-hitting environmental tune like Capercaillie’s “Black Fields” any day over this stuff.

I am probably more critical of this record than it deserves, fueled in part because I can hear Brenan’s voice cutting through in places and it breaks my heart that it doesn’t happen more often. There is genuine pathos in there, but the songs are presented like they’re part of some interminable family Christmas special. I need more from my music experiences than just a well-voiced tune sung while standing stately by a piano.

After I was done with this record, I looked it up to see if it was rare and valuable. It is not, but that just means that instead of selling it, I’ll give it away. In no scenario will I be keeping it. In fact, I’ve already used that space available in the “B” section of my shelving to file my recently obtained copy of Boogie Down Productions’ “By All Means Necessary.” I still like this era of Celtic music, but I don’t keep records on the shelf just because they happen to have a few words in a cool language on them. Later, Maire.

Best tracks: Oro, Land of Youth (Tir na nOg)

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