ALAN STIVELL: EMERALD (2009)
1) Brittany's - Ar Bleizi Mor; 2) Lusk - Skye Boat Song; 3) Marionig; 4) Tamm Ha Tamm - Rennes, Nantes & Brest; 5) Gael's Call - Glaoch Na nGael; 6) Harplinn; 7) Goadec Rock; 8) Eibhlin - Eileen A Roon; 9) Aquarelle - Er Penn All D'Al Lanneg; 10) An Hirañ Noz - Noël, Espoir - Ar Hyd Y Nos; 11) Mac Crimon (part I); 12) Mac Crimon (part II); 13) Mac Crimon (part III).
Emerald has the same number of letters as Explore and both begin with an E. The similarities do not end there, as you understand, but overall, the two records drift on completely different pivots. This time, Alan is back to «normal» music-making, and three years of procrastination have done well for the 21st century druid: not only has he managed to come up with his most diverse album in years, if not decades, but he has even done what I already believed impossible — scaled those cathartic heights once again.
It comes on in the very end, though; you'll have to wait for it, but the three-part epic 'Mac Crimon' is worth every bit the wait. It is one of Alan's grandest finales, the grandest, perhaps, since Celtic Symphony, if nowhere near as complex — just a stately piano melody, some bagpipes, and choral singing ('L'Ensemble Choral Du Bout De Monde', to be precise) to wind up the solemnity motor. The middle part is the real juicy bit, but it sits well in its coating of pipes and gloomy acappella singing from both sides. It probably will not work, though, if there was never a moment somewhere deep in your childhood when you did not shun away from the opportunity of shedding a tear over 'Auld Lang Syne'. (Never too late, though).
The rest of the record also aspires to grabbing one's attention, in a better planned and more seriously concentrated effort than anything since... quite a long time ago. Simply put, this is a working synthesis of just about all the directions, with the exception of «world music fusion», that Stivell had pursued in the past thirty years. Some of this sounds like cocky Celtic power-pop ('Ar Bleizi Mor'), some, like Mist Of Avalon-style Arthurian opera ('Lusk'), some, like his New Age experiments, but with more distinctively fleshed out musical themes ('Harplinn'), and for those who like it loud and brawny there is even some really jarring, grumbly Celtic hard rock ('Goadec Rock' may be driven by the deepest, heaviest guitar rhythm part in all of Alan's catalog, and, surprisingly, it sounds quite tasteful at that).
All of which shows that, even if the main bulk of Stivell's legend is unlikely to get more props (not that it is in dire need of any more), the 65-year old artist is still going strong. Emerald is the kind of record of which he could make fifty carbon copies and everybody would be happy — unlike Explore, this stuff is timeless, and as long as Alan is not infected by the notion that new legions of upcoming young fans must learn to appreciate Celtic motives by hearing them in hip-hop or nu-metal or emocore arrangements, all new albums such as these will be an incessant source of B-level enjoyment (the A-level, I'm afraid, ended with the Seventies). Thumbs up.
Check "Emerald" (CD) on Amazon