gently used, finely crafted

Anam (Atlantic)
Fuaim (Atlantic)

By John Goodin

Have you seen the recent Volkswagen commercial? You know, the one with the ethereal, Celtic-textured music following a VW product through wondrous natural vistas? Here's the song. "Harry's Game" (also from the soundtrack of "The Patriot Game" film) has changed Clannad's summer 1992 release from a modest Enya-wannabe into a best seller.

This is ironic for a couple of reasons. First, from the time she was a wee lass, Enya has listened to her big sister Maire and her brothers in Clannad. She joined the band herself in 1980 and spent two years harmonizing with her relatives and playing keyboards before starting her solo career. Second, "Harry's Game" is over ten years old and was carefully packaged by Atlantic records with a 1986 track featuring Bono and ten 1992 Clannad cuts to comprise Anam.

Atlantic has followed this success with a "new" release that seems to suggest a reunion of Clannad and their successful kid sister. Caveat emptor! Fuaim is actually the first American release of Clannad's 1982 album recorded just before Enya went on her own. Rarely has anything resembling Irish folk music received this kind of push from a major label.

The good news is that Anam (Gaelic for "soul") is a very nice record. So the folks who are buying it to get "the single" are treated to some excellent high-tech Irish folk-pop. Lots of soothing synth pads and plenty of layered vocals dripping with cathedral echo boost this effort. Best of all is the lovely voice of Maire Brennan.

The disc has a good variety of tunes: ballads like "Amam" and "You're the One," mid-tempo tunes with saxophone solos like "In Fortune's Hand" and "Love and Affection," a couple of pretty Celtic instrumentals and the obligatory unaccompanied solo vocal.

Fuaim ("Sound") is a much folkier record, sounding something like England's Pentangle. The singing is very nice, Enya taking lead on two songs. Most songs are in Gaelic, which is a beautiful sounding language. Unlike other Irish bands, Clannad doesn't try to dazzle with medleys of jigs and reels. Their instrumentals tend to be slightly impressionistic, jazz-tinged affairs. Fuaim features a couple of these. On the whole, this is a tastefully played and sung, but non-essential, example of early '80s Irish folk.

Clannad has lasted over 20 years by making quality music. Now they are getting some well-deserved major label attention. If you are tired of your Bothy Band and Nightnoise records, or you just can't get enough of that Enya sound, then Clannad may be what you've been looking for.