Liam Ó Maonlaí - Rian
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Liam Ó Maonlaí
Rian
Rian Records (www.rianrecords.com)

"Rian" in Irish means a "trace, track, or sign." The path Liam Ó Maonlaí treads here is ancient, but he chooses this road less travelled. It's a welcome solo detour from the tepid Irish soul of his band Hothouse Flowers.

The album never tires. Ó Maonlaí's rock and traditional backgrounds mix deftly international influences, percussive and bodhran-based beats, full-on and carefully delivered "old style" sean-nos singing, and nimble whistle playing. He takes the flavors of the global and the village to stir them into the urban, that is, to combine not for novelty, exploitation or trend-spotting, but out of sheer delight, talent and enthusiasm.

The album's production, by rock musician John Reynolds, highlights this confidence. Rian varies vocals, percussion, whistle, and world-blends. This keeps it from getting stale, or becoming mired in one particular style. Ó Maonlai credits the example of Seán Ó Riada, who was famed for integrating classical music with Irish melodies as well as spurring on the Chieftains and the Celtic music revival in the late 60s. Moreover, two albums by Seán's son Peadar released in the mid-90s also complement this album well. These, while more eclectic, with a similarly bold rethinking of "duchas," the native Irish word for pride in heritage, make intelligent counterparts for Rian's blend of the spare and the lush, the subdued and the swaggering. Comparison can also be made with Iarla Ó Lionaird's solo work.

The lyrical booklet offers, in handlettering and print, only brief notes. Admittedly these Irish-language tunes are public domain, so lyrics are not always added, especially for an Irish audience. But, in this case, a wrong decision was made, given Ó Maonlaí's appeal to a global audience likely to be unaware of sean-nos. Only "A Prayer" (the Our Father) offers bilingual lyrics. Space should have been saved, in Irish and with translations, that could have provided lyrics for listeners. In an "Irish Voice" interview, Ó Maonlaí assumed that few listeners will know the Irish in which he sings. True enough, but why not give this Irish wider exposure? - John L. Murphy

Post: Liam O Maonlai's website (www.liam-o-maonlai.com) links to North American tour promotional posters. These graphics recall the late 60s without mimickry; each is distinct from the others in an aesthetically pleasing and visually captivating manner.

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