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VARIOUS - Common Ground: Voices Of Modern Irish Music
(EMI)

Itís not easy to be objective about an album touting itself as containing Voices Of Modern Irish Music when it leaves out some of the genreís foremost talents in favor of some folks who have roots in Ireland but would not be considered Irish by most standards. Of course itís really far too much to expect such a project, even one containing all new recordings assembled chiefly by one producer, to remotely resemble a definitive modern-day survey of the rich historical tapestry that is Irish music.

Without voices like those of Van Morrison, Luka Bloom, and Black 47ís Larry Kirwan, though, these proceedings lack a certain measure of authenticity and relevance. Morrisonís standing as both rock and rollís supreme curmudgeon and one of its foremost control freaks makes his nonparticipation basically a given, while the recent ignominious dropping of New York-based Black 47 by EMIís SBK label explains away that gross oversight. Bloom, also very much an American these days, is at least represented by his brother, the hugely popular Christy Moore, who closes the album with his reading of the traditional number "Bogieís Bonnie Belle."

Another glaring omission, that of Shane MacGowan or the current lineup of The Pogues, is satisfied in a Six Degrees Of Separation sort of way with the contribution of Elvis Costello, who is at least married to an ex-Pogue. Costello majestically recites "The Night Before Larry Was Stretched," the stretching referring to an execution. The trackís backing that includes banjo, bouzouki, and button accordion is well in accordance with his flair for varied instrumentation on recent works of his. The similarly Irish-but-not-from-Ireland Tim and Neil Finn harmonize quite nicely on "Mary Of The South Seas," an original song about their mother, who, if you can believe this, actually was Irish. Kate Bush has stretched her voice in more than a few directions before, but her Gaelic singing on the seeming cautionary tale "MnŠ Na H-Eireann" is otherworldly, even for her.

Bono and Adam Clayton revisit "Tomorrow," originally part of Octoberís somber double centerpiece. Itís sung even slower and with less bombast than the version of fifteen years ago. The rock trappings of the original, particularly the guitars, are replaced by a slower but vaguely dance beat, produced by both traditional instruments as well as electronics. On the topic of gifted vocalists who occasionally overdo it, it is a relief to hear Sinťad OíConnorís performance of "On Raglan Road," which is similarly grounded.

Sharon Shannonís bouncy button accordion on the instrumental "Cavan Potholes" cuts a danceable groove. Folk songs both plaintive (Paul Bradyís "Help Me To Believe") and innocuous (Andy Irvineís "My Heartís Tonight In Ireland") work well enough in this context. MŠire Brennan of Clannad and Liam ” MaonlaŪ of Hothouse Flowers submit unexciting appearances.

Short of an actual Van Morrison track, there is Brian Kennedyís pedestrian version of "As I Roved Out," another traditional. Those who missed Van The Manís most erratic release of the Ď90s, last yearís Days Like This, missed, on numerous tracks, Kennedy echoing vocally whatever lyric it was Van had just sang. Aside from marring to varying degrees a number of good to very good songs, it led to speculation that Van had been listening to Dylanís Budokan album, not to mention the coining of a phrase to describe similarly ill-fated echoed vocal arrangements as "pulling a Brian Kennedy." The artists on this work pulled together by producer Donal Lunny would likely do anything for Ireland, but at least none of them did that.

MOSTLY CLEAN, 1996