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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Alan Stivell: Chemins De Terre


1) Susy MacGuire; 2) Ian Morrison Reel; 3) She Moved Through The Fair; 4) Can Y Melinydd; 5) Oidche Maith; 6) An Dro Nevez; 7) Maro Ma Mestrez; 8) Brezhoneg' Raok; 9) An Hani A Garan; 10) Metig; 11) Kimiad.

The perfect studio companion to L'Olympia. More or less the same band and the same approach — a small portable encyclopaedia of all musical things Celtic, with a few additional ideas thrown in on how to ornate and present them for the modern listener whose parents have not taught him how to hunt wild boar or fashion torcs.

Once again, Alan shows off both his egalitarian principles — dedicating the first side of the LP to the British Isles, singing in English, Irish, and Welsh — and his native predilections — filling the entire second side with Bretonic sounds, most of them rearranged from traditional sources, but also including one completely original composition. By this time, however, it becomes rather cle­ar which of these two sides, the «broad Celtic» or the «narrow Bretonic», receives the larger part of the man's spirit.

Because, although side A is pretty damn good, it does not really transcend the level of «sincere professionalism». Both the reel of 'Ian Morrison' and the harp balladry of 'She Moved Thro­ugh The Fair' are expertly delivered, yet there is no question that I'd rather listen to Clannad do­ing both — their jigs are livelier and brawnier, and even after one has finally acquired a taste for Alan's twangy, shrill manner of singing, can one still be blamed for preferring the haunting so­u­n­d­ of Moya Brennan, especially when it's tender, sentimental balladry we're talking about?

Let's face it: traditional Celtic music is, in essence, quite beautiful, but just as limited in formula as any folk tradition, be it Chinese, Balkan, or African, and picking out the subtle differences between twenty artists drawing upon the same formula is suitable job for an expert rather than the average music lover. To my ears, when shifting to Irish and Welsh motives, Stivell fares no better or worse than most of the recognized soldiers of the modern day Celtic armies.

His meal of choice, the preparation of which he has mastered well beyond basic tourist level, is an integration of his native Armorican sounds with his own creativity and modern technological advances. This is why the true magic starts as soon as we flip the record over, and 'An Dro Nevez' greets us with a trance-inducing fiddle duet, soon to be joined by a grumbly electric guitar rhythm track, occasionally bursting into ecstatic mini-solos. This is something radically different, well worth living for.

Even when simply singing acappella, Alan still does it best in Breton ('Maro Ma Mestrez'), em­ploying a complex, trickily flowing folk style, the true fish'n'chips of folk musicology students. But his very best still shines through on original compositions: 'Brezhoneg' Roak' in itself could qualify as a genre-founding track, with the genre provisionally called «Bretonic Rock» — it's a loud, bombastic, hard-rocking song that culminates in an ecstatic prog-rockish guitar symphony, but is at the same time dominated by «druid harmonies»; a unique creation if there ever was one.

The other traditional tunes on Side B are less imaginative, but still, the bulk of Stivell's interesting ideas and approaches about their general arrangements and different kinds of acoustic/electric in­terplay are to be found there rather than on the Irish/Welsh side. It's a good thing he placed the two in this particular order — this way, Chemins De Terre gets an awesome sequencing, from the merely pleasant to the uniquely impressive and then, letting it slide gracefully with the bag­pipes of 'Kimiad' (no, no, we are still in Armorica. Apparently, of all the Celtic subcultures Stivell does Scotland rarest of all, for some reason). A gallant thumbs up, and if you need a specific re­commendation, 'Brezhoneg' Roak' is required listening for anyone interested in getting a complete musical picture of the 1970s.

Check "Chemins De Terre" (CD) on Amazon


  1. George, George: remember that "a jig of 'Ian Morrison reel'" is a self-contradiction. A jig is NOT a reel and vice versa...Come on, comrade, we can expect better than that from you...:)

  2. Heh, nobody is perfect! I still agree with your reviews more often than not!