Like many fans of Clannad, I was first introduced to the multi Grammy-winning Irish group during a pivotal scene in the 1992 film “The Last of the Mohicans.” Behind a thunderous waterfall, Hawkeye (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) is forced temporarily to abandon the woman he loves in order to plan a daring rescue. Cue Clannad’s “I Will Find You” and romantic movie history is made. This blend of folk, New Age, and Celtic music would not only influence future film scores (most notably “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) but would affect modern music for years to come.
A family band formed in 1970, with a first album three years later, Clannad has now released a 2-CD best of compilation entitled, appropriately, The Essential Clannad, with thirty songs and new liner notes by Larry Kirwan of Sirius XM’s Celtic Crush.
The first disc contains several tracks from TV and film (including the familiar “Theme from Harry’s Game”) as well as duets with performers as diverse as Bruce Hornsby, Steve Perry, and Bono. The second disc offers more traditional Celtic tunes, most in Gaelic, a politically risky move for the group early on, given the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The influence of Clannad, recipient of numerous industry awards, has spread to other cultures around the globe, spawning enthusiasm for World Music performed by singers and ensembles in their respective native languages.
Clannad’s music is grounded in the old ways but with fresh and innovative arrangements which often cross over into jazz, rock, and technopop. Their tunes are sweeping, music one listens to but also breathes in and reflects by. Their harmonies are, at times, mysterious and ethereal, touching the spirit; at other times, their music evokes earthly images of wind, cliffs, and crashing seas. For the listener, the result is normally a sense of peace and well-being.
I say “normally” because this collection made me a bit uncomfortable, too. Admittedly, what has been considered New Age-y cutting edge now seems somewhat quaint and distant—like watching reruns of an 80s sitcom. While I listened to the CD set, evaluating its merits, my daughter’s eighteen year old boyfriend actually started doing an interpretive dance, swaying arms and all. Though he meant no disrespect, I realized that his derision of the group’s signature sound indicated how ethereal, evocative, and peaceful are probably outdated and even foreign by today’s popular music standards. Young consumers generally favor music which assaults rather than soothes the senses.
Still, I am defending my musical tastes—and, ahem, my advanced age—while recommending The Essential Clannad. If you have none of the group’s albums in your collection, this set, representing an illustrious and influential career, would be a good start.