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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Alan Stivell: E Langonned


1) E Parrez Langonned; 2) Gavotenn Pourled; 3) Planedenn; 4) Ne Bado Ket Atao; 5) Bwthyn Fy Nain; 6) Ffarwl I Aberystwyth; 7) Briste Leathai Pheadair / Mairseal A'Chearc; 8) Dans Fisel / Gavotenn Ar Menez / An Sagart Cheol­nhar; 9) Bal Fisel; 10) Deus Ganin Me D'Am Bro; 11) Jenovefa; 12) Sagart O'Donaill; 13) Diougan Gwenc'hlan; 14) Ar Voraerion; 15) Faili Faili Oro; 16) Oye Vie.

Probably the most «hardcore» record in Stivell's catalog, as you can tell by looking at the track names alone: not a single title in English or even French, only endless streams of user-unfriendly Breton, Irish, and Welsh phrases. The musical content matches the impression: taking a break from further explorations in «Celtic Rock», here Alan concentrates exclusively on traditional mo­tives, moods, and instrumentation. «Langonned» is actually an odd orthographic hybrid of Bre­ton Langoned = French Langonnet, a Breton commune, yet, once again, the album is not fully Bre­ton-based — not that it would matter to anyone but obsessive professional Celtologists and mo­dern day druid culture revivalists with their blue paint, mistletoe, and menhir fixation.

According to Dave Thompson of the All-Music Guide, E Langonned «is frequently described as his (Stivell's) most accessible album». The passive voice is a marvelous device that helps avoid responsibility, but I am still deeply curious as to who, and under the aid of which substances, would ever describe E Langonned as «accessible». Yes, this is technically unadorned, minima­listic, individually-interpreted collective-traditional music, but, from the point of view of any ty­pi­cal rock mu­sic listener, it should be much harder to digest than, say, A L'Olympia.

The tunes are not, by any means, «hooky». Many of them start out — and many end as well — as pure vocal numbers, and you must really get into the spirit of medieval folk singing to dig them, including a predilection for melody-varying and top range reaching on most verses that place the tunes closer to Eastern vocalizing than to commonly known Western. A few of the numbers, e. g. 'Ne Bado Ket Atao', represent the traditional Breton style of kan ha diskan (call and response) — again, very strictly an acquired taste (Vying for village idiot status? Just play this loud enough in your immediate neighborhood). But yeah — quite accessible, I'm sure, if you come from a small Breton village and, preferably, are two or three hundred years old.

There is also a bit too much bagpipe music here for my tastes, most of it on Side A ('Ffarwel I Aberystwyth' is a particularly vicious dog-killer if there ever was one); and some of the fiddles seem basically attuned to the same wavelength, so that if the one flows seamlessly into the other, the headache merely shifts its center of mass. Fortunately, the second side drops it all in favor of generally more meditative and proverbially pretty harp music, occasionally interrupted by Alan's acappella chants. As usual, the tunes are impossible to tell from each other, but I guess you are supposed to get lost in their thicket, rather than meticulously stuff them into little numbered cells inside your brain. Hey, it works with me.

I do not believe, though, that E Langonned is an album that you are supposed to simply enjoy. You can learn from it — this is about as «authentic» as Celtic music ever gets; if there is some­thing more authentic, I don't even want to hear about it. You can, if you wish, seek out the mean­ing of life in its depths (which our partial forefathers, the Celts, apparently knew everything about, or else they wouldn't let the Romans and the Germans whack their asses so easily). But it is not a record to «like», whatever that means — unlike, say, Jethro Tull and their take on the wise old bearded forest-loving clown routine.

Check "E Langonned" (CD) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. Heh-heh, cute, but remember, that there wasn't that much difference between the "Celts" and the "Germans" (if any) and the aforementioned Celts kicked Roman ass regularly, and brutally...:) But I'm going to have to listen to this one, in all of its dog-disturbing glogry (I have a weak spot for bagpipes of all kinds, after all).