‘Rian’ by Liam -“ Maonlai

‘Rian’ is the solo album of Liam Ó Maonlai arranging and performing a collection of traditional Irish songs. He is better known as the lead singer with the Hothouse Flowers, but there is nothing here musically that suggests them, other than the sound of Liams voice.

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Available from www.rianrecords.com and well worth it. Here are some notes that I made upon hearing it for the 20th time (it’s been a constant in my stereo for nearly a week now):

Avanyu (Intro) – I love the sound of the bodhran and this is a bodhran instrumental from a man, who once won national awards in his native Eire for playing this drum.

�r nAthair – Sung in Irish Gaelic and written by Sean O Riada, it is mostly an acapello rendering and beautifully evocative. Subtitled in English, The Lords Prayer, and having no Gaelic myself, it is presumably simply that given a traditional Irish treatment, though, towards the end, it sounds almost like something that the Doors could have written.

Sadbh Ni Buruinnealadh – Though played on Irish instruments, the overall sound is African or Asian. Liam thanks our tribal family from Meningreeda and later the people of West Papua, either of whom may have been an influence on this treatment. During my first listen, while washing up after a stressful day at work, this is the tune which first caught my undivided attention. Before I knew it, I was jigging on the kitchen floor and the day redeemed itself. Something about this song goes straight from the ear to the feet. The sleeve notes tell us that the song is about a sea captain, putting his cards on the table with a woman. She can have him, hes successful and hard-working, but once he hears the call of the sea, he has to go. Shes not convinced and, as theres no note saying whether he intends to return or not after leaving, Im not sure I blame her!

An Buachall B�n – Subtitled The Dear Irish Boy, the whistles soar your imagination to some lonely Irish landscape, depth added partway through by the underpinning of keyboards. Totally instrumental, for anyone who is thrilled by Celtic music (ie usually Gaelic, and generally Irish at that), then this will have everything.

�rchnoc Chein Mhic C�inte – A traditional Irish song, taught to Liam by his father. Song in Gaelic again, it recalls the terrible days of the 19th century, when so many Irish were worked to the point of slavery by their (usually English) landlords, until the famine led to their wholesale eviction from the land. The solution, given in the song and taken by 1.6 million Irish people is to flee to some promised land, America, Australia, anywhere else where they may survive.

The Old Bush – Another jig worthy tune, on the whistle, later joined by percussion, which had me dancing about the room.

Inion An Fhaoit �n nGleann – Here Liam is singing about his love for a woman socially out of his reach. This recalls a specific time in Irelands history, when the imposition of the English class system divided Irish society along the same lines. Sung in Gaelic, accompanied by a lone keyboard and later a chorus of voices, it is heart-rendering. The goose-bumps came up on my arms while listening to this.

Seoladh na MGamhna – Richer in sound and instrumentation than all of the other songs on this album, yet it suffers for it, relatively. The listener is so used, by now, to the simplicity of the other songs that this becomes almost incidental music. Nonetheless, it is evocative.

Na Connerys – Another Gaelic traditional song depicting a dark period in Irish history. This time it is the nominally legal, but unfairly executed justice system of the 18th and 19th centuries that is lamented. The brothers Connery are from a respectful family, but are framed and exiled to New South Wales. More familiar with the Welsh hiraeth of Dai
Cantwyr, this type of story is known to me, but Ive never heard it from the Gaels before. Another raising the goose-bumps in hearing.

Reels – Exactly what it says on the packet and very nicely done too. Very knackering for people who smoke too much.

Ag Criost an Siol – With no sleeve notes, a quick search informed me that this is a hymn, which, like �r nAthair, has been set to music by S�an � Riada. If Christianity had sounded like this in the Methodist Chapels of the Black Country, I might never have become a Pagan.

Tom Billys Jig – A short jig; bypassing the conscious brain it is less heard and more danced to.

Avanyu Intro (reprise) – Reprising the bodhran and singing sticks refrain that opened Rian, it is also a lot shorter. Regrettably.

The Rainy Day – Whistle and keyboard open another; and just in case you were ready to sit down after the previous two songs, this is slower, but nonetheless there to be danced to.

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