To most folks out there, Clannad is probably best known as "the band that Enya used to be in," although for me, they are more like "that great Celtic band that later got all goopy and New Agey..." Clannad are made up of various members of the Bhraonain (Brennan) and Dugain (Duggan) families, out of County Donegal in Ireland. Vocalist Maire Ni Bhraonain (now known as Mary Brennan) was at the vocal heart of the band, although the band's considerable collective instrumental skill was also nothing to sneeze at. Although they were always modernists, Clannad started off with a more traditional, folkloric orientation, and their records of the early and late 1970s are generally pretty satisfying to the trad-oriented among us -- smooth and ornate, but with a solid Celtic foundation.
Over the years, Clannad's sound has gotten progressively slicker and more synthy, and they are now an institutionalized part of the Celtic-New Age scene. And, yes, Maire's little sister Eithne, aka Enya, did get her start in the family band, although she was only briefly a member at the beginning of the 1980s, before setting off to become a super-duper New Age superstar in her own right. Most current Clannad fans probably like them for all the reasons that I no longer do: the slick, heavily layered, glossy production, and the muzak-y tilt of their later work, as well as the gooey spirituality. Maire Brennan also has a significant solo career, which increasingly has become a platform for her Christian beliefs. In general, though, I would say that I am a fan of the band's early work, and offer this quick look at their decades long career...
Clannad "Clannad" (Philips/Boot, 1973)
The Clannad ensemble had been kicking around, playing folk clubs and the like since around 1970, but when they finally put out their first album, they made quite a splash. This is an interesting mix of trad and softer folk styles, with a heavy tilt towards the sort of jazzy flights that had been pioneered by England's Pentangle. (The debt to John Renborne is particularly noticible on some of the guitar work here...) Clannad's approach was much softer than most of the Irish folk that had come before them, and was also notable for its emphasis on songs, rather than the typical instrumental jigs and reels. Even the band's detractors may wish to check out this early material -- there are certainly some lovely moments to be heard.
Clannad "Clannad 2" (Gael Linn/Shanachie, 1974)
Clannad's success with their first album brought them to the attention of established Irish heavyweights such as Planxty/Bothy Band co-founder Donal Lunny, who helped produce this album. It's still a mix of trad and a softer, loftier folkie approach, similar to their first album, though perhaps a bit more tightly focussed and effective. Definitely worth checking out.
Clannad "Dulaman" (Gael Linn/Shanachie, 1976)
Clannad "Clannad In Concert" (Ogham/Shanachie, 1979)
Clannad "Ring Of Gold" (Celtic Music, 1979)
Clannad "Crann Ull" (Tara, 1980)
Clannad "Fuaim" (Tara, 1982)
Maire Brennan's sister Eithne (soon to become known as Enya) chips in as the second female voice on this album. Her airier, ethereal approach plays nicely in tandem with her older sibling's more conventional, folkish style. I think this may have been her only album with the band...
Clannad "Magical Ring" (Tara/RCA, 1983)
Clannad "Legend" (Soundtrack) (RCA, 1984)
Clannad "Macalla" (RCA, 1985)
Clannad "Sirius" (RCA, 1988)
Clannad & Tom Conti "The Angel And The Soldier Boy" (RCA, 1989)
Clannad "PastPresent" (RCA, 1989)
A greatest hits set...
Clannad "Atlantic Realm" (BBC, 1989)
Clannad "Anam" (RCA/Atlantic, 1990)
Clannad "Banba" (RCA/Atlantic, 1993)
Clannad "Lore" (RCA/Atlantic, 1996)
Clannad "Landmarks" (RCA/Atlantic, 1998)
Clannad "Live In Concert" (Koch, 2005)
Clannad "Themes" (KTel, 1990)
Clannad "The Collection" (KTel, 1990)
Clannad "Rogha: The Best Of Clannad" (RCA, 1997)
Clannad "Greatest Hits" (RCA, 2000)
Clannad "A Magical Gathering: The Clannad Anthology" (Rhino, 2002)
For a comprehensive introduction to this soft-edged Irish supergroup, this 2-CD set, which spans 1973-1998, seems pretty good to me (although they could have added a little more of the rootsier early work...) Maire Brennan's folkie, Judy Collins-ish vocals are fine thoughout, and the arrangements are consistently understated and mellow. Sure, the later stuff gets synthier and synthier (with an abrupt shift in 1984, at the start of Disc Two), but that kinda goes with the terrritory... Clannad are, at least, a few cuts above most of their many New Age-y imitators. If you're into it, this is a fine collection.
Maire Brennan "Maire" (RCA/Atlantic, 1992)
Maire Brennan "Misty-Eyed Adventures" (RCA/Atlantic, 1994)
Maire Brennan "Perfect Time" (Word, 1998)
Maire Brennan "Whisper To The Wild Water" (Word, 1999)
Maire Brennan/Margaret Becker/Joanne Hogg "New Irish Hymns (In Christ Alone)" (Kingsway, 2001)
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