ALAN STIVELL: BRIAN BORU (1995)
1) Brian Boru; 2) Let The Plinn; 3) Mnà Na hÉireann; 4) Ye Banks And Braes; 5) Mairi's Wedding; 6) Cease Fire; 7) De' Ha' Bla; 8) Sword Dance; 9) Parlamant Lament; 10) Lands Of My Father.
Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig is one of Ireland's legendary cultural-political heroes, credited with cementing the Irishness of the Irish in the face of the Scandinavian threat. As is often the case in such situations, Brian's real role may have been vastly exaggerated by tradition, but why should the average O'Brien care about it? We all need someone we can bleed on, as Mick tells us.
Anyway, the title alone is enough to guess that this must be Stivell's brotherly contribution to the nation of Ireland: not a mixed pan-Celtic product as usual, but concentrated strictly on all things Irish. He still does a lot of singing in Breton, though, presumably because of rather poor pronunciation skills when it comes to enunciating Irish words instead (so the knowledgeable people say, at least, although most of us will never know the ultimate truth); and when he switches to Irish, he is frequently accompanied by fiddle player and singer Máire Breatnach, endowed with one of those proverbially gorgeous Celtic singing voices that eventually run the risk of becoming a bit too generically gorgeous. She's alright in limited doses, though.
As for the music, this is typical late-period Stivell: some nice, not too original melodies, occasionally spoiled by overproduction, mixed with an occasional horrible-shit-idea or two. It never really gets better than the title track, with a well-rounded epic (and catchy!) duet between Alan and Máire, who, out of nowhere, throws on a couple verses from Irish poet Caitlin Maude's «Vietnam Lovesong» (!) — which, obviously, fit in well with an ode to Brian Boru since nobody undertands a word in the first place.
Then, in standard typical late-period Stivell manner, he introduces us to 'Let The Plinn', a goofy bass-heavy, effects-laden «world music» dance number that probably begs for being pigeonholed as «Celtic rap». It is not so much «cheesy» per se as simply unnecessary, a track whose only function is to advertise itself as a novelty gimmick, a far cry indeed from the inspired synthesis of Celtic Symphony. It is an unusual twist, and it does give Brian Boru a unique facial feature, but would you want to be able to remember a person primarily because of a huge wart right under his nose, or something like that?
Still, overall, Brian Boru is an improvement over Avalon. Stivell's technophile excesses, with the exception of 'Plinn', are kept to a minimum, the harps and bagpipes dominate the proceedings, and 'Ye Banks And Braes' and 'Mairi's Wedding' are beautiful upbeat traditional ballads with well adjusted electric guitar solos. It does not look like Alan is trying too hard: the days of master class in creativity are long gone. But with Brian Boru, it seems as if he has more or less reached a certain truce with himself, comfortably settling into a formula that pleases his own spirit and his small fan following; and in this context, the artist is usually guaranteed a steady flow of «B-level» albums, with a risk of descending into «C-level» territory only if some inner demon tempts him to transform all of his music into lame attempts at modernization à la 'Let The Plinn'. Fortunately, the temptation process was never completed on this cozy, lovely, middle-of-the-road little record. Thumbs up, I guess.
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