Monthly Archives: March 2017

The ones that nearly got away: Clannad, Lore

[Clannad - Lore]

I had to choose.

It was 2002, and I was working a minimum-wage job. I was moving to a smaller apartment, and I couldn’t house my collection in the reduced space. So I had to let go of anything to which I didn’t feel a strong attachment.

In the mid-’90s, I was a Clannad completist. I had the soundtrack albums. I had the critically-panned albums. I had the folk albums. And I had the albums with Enya on them.

But it was too much, and if I were pressed, I could admit I didn’t love all of it. Some decisions were easy: MacallaMagical Ring and the folk albums stayed. AnamSirius and Landmarks would go.

Lore was on the cusp.

At the time it was released, I gave it a favorable review in the student newspaper. That was in 1996. It was 7 years later. Did I absolutely love this album this album? The answer was … no. I liked it very much, but it didn’t occupy the same space of necessity as MacallaFuaim or Banba.

So it went.

Lore made its way back into my collection after I compiled a Google Play Music playlist of an old mix tape that included “Seanchas”. The track was the highlight of the album, and it made me crave to hear the rest of it.

Luckily, I found a copy of the album for $1 at the Lifelong AIDS Alliance Thrift Shop.

It’s nice to have this album back in the collection. Clannad can sometimes get a bit mired in adult contemporary smoothness, but when they craft a fine set of tunes, the tight choral harmonies and impeccable performances really shine.

Lore would occupy a higher rank in Clannad’s output if its predecessor, Banba, didn’t cast such a large shadow over it. A lot of Lore feels familiar — all the mysticism of “Harry’s Game” spread over an entire length of an album.

In a few instances, Lore stretches out. “Alasdair MacColla” feels more Scottish than Irish, and “From Your Heart” uses a drum loop more suitable for club music.

While it may seem I’m still ambivalent about Lore, I admit I made a mistake letting this one slip away. This one should have stayed.

 

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Catching up: The Waterboys, Fisherman’s Blues

[The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues]

One of my favorite albums of the late ’80s is The Long Acre by In Tua Nua. At the time, I was frustrated by the band’s lack of press in the U.S. If they were mentioned at all, it was in passing.

U2 starts a vanity label! (Oh, and there’s In Tua Nua on the roster.) Sinéad O’Connor wrote her first songs as a teenager! (Oh, and there’s In Tua Nua who co-wrote the single.)

So in 1988, I read an article about the Waterboys in Pulse magazine, and it mentioned In Tua Nua’s former violinist Steve Wickham had joined the band. That alone got me interested in Fisherman’s Blues, but since these were the days when radio or record store listening stations were the only way to preview music, I had to calculate how badly I wanted to hear this music.

And it turns out … not that much, really.

I left the album on the shelf and thought little about it till recently.

Much like Tracy Chapman’s Crossroads, I would encounter Fisherman’s Blues as I hunted the used vinyl bins for other albums. Each encounter would scratch that decade’s old itch of curiosity. I eventually bought the album on CD before becoming enamored enough to grab an old vinyl copy.

I do know one thing — I wouldn’t have appreciated the album had I bought it when it first came out.

I hadn’t yet gotten my schooling in traditional Celtic music, and I would have found Mike Scott’s voice grating. And I don’t know if I would have found may way back to the album if it confounded me on first impression.

Bands such as Clannad and Capercaillie skew closer to the traditional side of their Celtic/popular fusion. The Waterboys are a rock band first. Wickham’s violin lines pull the band’s songs toward the past, but they never lose their footing in the present.

Teenaged me would have lost patience with the album’s longer tracks, but older me appreciates their length. The cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” quotes the Beatles’ “Blackbird”, a spontaneous moment that works well. “And Bang on the Ear” needs all seven minutes to get through its story.

The bonus tracks on the CD expand on the Celtic influence, but the fewer tracks on the original vinyl pressing give it clarity.

Upon its release, reaction to the album was divided — the Celtic direction confused some listeners and pleased others. I fall into the latter camp, but I had a lot of help to get me there.

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How the pre-web Internet fueled my interest in Celtic music

[Clannad - Clannad 2]

Long-time readers probably remember this site from 15(!) years ago as a resource for non-mainstream Japanese rock music. Had I launched it back in 1996, it might have been a resource for Celtic music.

Boy did I go through a Celtic music kick in the mid-90s.

A friend of mine from high school sowed the seeds for this fascination. Although I had learned about Clannad before he did, he convinced me the band’s folk era in the ’70s was far better than the pop band they turned out to be.

We both dug “Harry’s Game”, though.

In 1993, I took a political science class as part of my core requirements, and the instructor arranged for the class to get Internet accounts. The campus was two years away from providing Internet accounts to everyone, but till then, e-mail accounts were granted only to computer science majors and students in classes that required the Internet as part of its curriculum.

The accounts would have been deactivated at the end of the class, but I kept using mine. The web was still in its infancy, and I had yet learned how to create a page in HTML. But I did learn how to subscribe to mailing lists and to visit newsgroups.

Given my fascination with Clannad, I visited a group called rec.music.celtic. Within a week, I had recommendations for other artists similar to Clannad. Over the next three years, I would get my hands on albums by Capercaillie, Talitha Mackenzie, Altan, Boiled in Lead and Wolfstone.

I signed up for the postal mailing list of Green Linnet Records and soon afterward discovered Värttinä and the Klezmatics.

Of course, record stores in Honolulu didn’t actually stock albums by any of these artists. So how did I get my hands on them?

The first e-commerce site I ever used was not Amazon, or even its predecessors CDNow or Music Boulevard. It was CD Connection. And the service didn’t even have a website — it had a Telnet server.

That’s right — Telnet, not SSH. I bought music through a command-line interface!

That experience sold me on the potential of the Internet. I was a kid in Honolulu with little access to music outside of radio and MTV, but with the help of people from clear across the globe, I could indulge in an interest as esoteric as Celtic music.

From today’s perspective, I took a big risk handing my credit card number over an insecure protocol such as Telnet. Back then, the Internet hadn’t yet been made available to the nation at large. It was still the domain of universities and governments. Net etiquette was easier to enforce, and users really invested into the egalitarian potential of the Internet.

But using the Internet as a source of music discovery is something I learned early on, and it eventually led to the launch of Musicwhore.org as a resource for Japanese music when I saw a niche being underserved.

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