Album Cover: Shepherd Moons

 

Shepherd Moons

Mik Lipcsey

Posted to rec.music.newage on December 3, 1991

SHEPHERD MOONS
ENYA

Artist
Producer
Executive Producer
Media
Enya (Eithne Ní Bhraonáin)
Nicky Ryan
Rob Dickins
Compact Disc (9031-75572-2) Released on WEA.
All music composed and performed by Enya. Lyrics by Roma Ryan.
Arrangements by Enya and Nicky Ryan.
Recording Engineer
Mixing Engineer
Assistant Engineer
Nicky Ryan (Tk 1,2,4,5,6,8,10,11,12), Gregg Jackman (Tk 3,7,9)
Gregg Jackman
Robin Barclay
Recorded at Aigle Studios. Mixed at Sarm West.
Photography David Scheinmann
Songs published and copyrighted in 1991, except 'Smaointe...' (published in 1988) by EMI Songs Ltd.

PROLOGUE

Enya is an classically trained Irish woman hailing from a remote part of County Donegal, Ireland. She comes from a extraordinarily musical family where her father was the leader of a local show band. She has 8 siblings: The eldest three (Máire, Ciáran and Pól) and two of her uncles are in the folk group Clannad. She joined Clannad circa 1980 and toured with them playing keyboards and occasional vocals. In 1982, she made her only album appearance with them (Fuaim on Tara Records) in which she performed on keyboards and vocal, but was not credited with composing. During that time, she met up with the producer Nicky Ryan and his wife Roma, whom Enya would eventually work with throughout her solo career. She left Clannad after Fuaim was finished.

She has released two solo works:

Enya (1986) (also known as The Celts)

Which features music from the BBC documentary series The Celts [BBC records]. This album, initially did not sell well at all, but is now doing reasonably well following the success of Watermark.

Watermark

(1988) [WEA]

The album that really launched her career.

She does all the composing and does arrangements with Nicky and performs on almost all of the instruments on her works.

She has made cameo appearances for Sinéad O'Conner's The Lion and the Cobra in the song 'Never Grow Old' and Christy Moore's Ordinary Man in the songs 'Sweet Music Roll On', 'Diamandtina Rover' and 'Quiet Desperation'. She also did the music for David Puttman's film The Frog Prince back in 1985.

Shepherd Moons is her third solo album.

Disclaimer

Let's face it. Music affects people in many ways, some of them strange. In my case, it's purely emotional: it's impossible to be objective on works that move, anger, excite, etc. I am not musically trained and so I will not comment on the technical aspects of the compositions unless they remind me of some other works (even from other artists). All opinions are my own and are un- ashamedly perceptive and consequently emotive.

Also note, that is my first review, so things might be in a little bit of a muddle.

Shepherd Moons

The Album as a Whole

When an artist releases a second or third album, inevitably it will be compared with the previous works. Shepherd Moons (SM) does have vague similarities in the album structure to Watermark (WM) in terms of song arrangements, (instrumental, song, song, song, song, instrumental... - for the first six tracks) but every thing else I find to be quite different in terms of mood and tone.

She still relies on Nicky Ryan's wall-of-sound engineering and the obviously painstaking multivocal layering and she still uses English, Gaelic and Latin languages in her songs. Her music this time seems more reflective and passionate than on WM, maybe not as timeless. Roma Ryan's lyrics complement the music perfectly. Vocally, Enya is still in fine voice: that utterly heavenly perfect pitch and gentle high soprano. Her voice in the low end seems to have gained in volume. The songs that are with the high vocals seemed to have to volume put up a notch or two (something I noticed just recently) but it's still wonderful to listen to.

The photography is spectacular to old-fashioned (the brownish tinge type photos). The cover has the bluish theme as a opposed to the red-brown theme of WM. Her eyes in reality are brown not hazel-blue as on this cover. I find the cover gives off a somewhat hottish appearance, rather than a cool air.

The Tracks

The opening title track launches you into space.... My goodness how small the earth is from out here! It's so tranquil, so gentle, so beautiful. Nothing but pure harmony: piano, ambient synthesizer and that wonderful voice. The last few bars, with the light tinkling keyboard and buzzing synths (violin strings?), is wonderful: reminds me of the voyager spacecraft flying through the Saturn rings. That's where "Shepherd Moons" were discovered (From memory a Shepherd Moon is a moon that holds the rings of a planet together by it's gravity. However, I remember a counter-argument at the time of Voyager II's flight by Saturn, that it may also cause some anomalies in the rings - stray wisps of dust or tiny bends in the ring structure).

'Caribbean Blue' is an up-tempo little number. Chirpy, optimistic and strangely very motherly (I can't think of any other word than that). In the background, does that sound like a strumming acoustic guitar? It certainly seems to be. In the foreground is the staccato 'plucking-string' sound which was successfully used in 'Storms over Africa' in WM. Here rhythm is dominant, rather than harmony. One can almost dance to it - has a certain swing. An obvious candidate for a single.

'How Can I Keep From Singing?' is a traditional arrangement, a gentle, simple folk song: very Celtic in its delivery. Sometimes, I feel, she seems to be singing too much over the music. Maybe that's something I'm not used to. The song ends fading to a light, yet restrained harmony. It is as if the story is to be continued...

'Edubæ' is a dark but noble song - straight from Savannah of Africa. But I love how the Gaelic language is used. It sounds, so, so,.... African! I have no idea what the lyrics are about, but it really goes well with the booming bass keyboards. Behind is slow, thoughtful percussion performed by Nicky and Enya.

'Angeles' is utterly heavenly. Again multi-vocal and synthesizer harmonies. A solemn clarinet solo performance is provided by Roy Jewitt. A very emotional song. And she is right... 'for so great a treasure WORDS WILL NEVER DO'. It honestly doesn't!!!

'No Holly for Miss Quinn' is a piano instrumental. To me, this song is really the only one that is similar to other songs on the Watermark album. It reminds me of 'Miss Clare Remembers' except this is not as reflective - or rather, it's more immediate.

Then comes some tracks, that for the life of me are at once autobiographical and Tolkien-ish. It may sound a little strange, but that is what I imagine when listening to these tracks.

'Book of Days' is a initially a complete surprise. Coming out of a slow piano intro, it picks up pace to an almost adventurous tale of great deeds and extraordinary places and strange peoples. It borders on the heroic. Then it is gentle as a breeze, then it returns to the galloping tale. Lots of percussion, including castanets and, I think, tom-toms. The synthesizers sound like cellos. Reminds me of the tales of Turin Turumbar from Tolkein's The Silmarrilion.

'Evacuee' is a wonderfully sad, moving and utterly emotional ballad (nostalgic? maybe, but it seems a little bit more immediate). Starts out with a dreamy vocal (which is later used in 'Marble Halls'), followed by rain (loneliness?), then a brass ensemble introduces the melody, then wall-of-sound synthesizers. Her vocals here are resolute, yet gentle. A wonderful solo is provided by Steve Sidwell on the cornet (trumpet?). It certainly seems to me to be her most personal work to date (is this is what it was like when she went to boarding school for the first time?). It has a yearning for warmth I have not heard for a long time. It's my favorite track on the album.

'Lothlórien' is very Tolkien-ish. A bit more reflective than I thought from the Lord of the Rings, where the land was beginning to fade. It has a marvellous synth warble underneath the main theme - a story within a story.

'Marble Halls' is a traditional arrangement. Here, Enya, has a go at being a high soprano, and does a reasonably good effort of it. Her voice NEARLY has got the strength of sustaining the high notes for a long time, but that comes with practice. Piano and synths make up the music. Again the wonderful multi-layer vocal harmonies make up the background. The tempo is almost a slow waltz.

'Afer Ventus' is sung in Latin. No idea what the lyrics are about. The lyrics have verses and running verses sung simultaneously and these are sung with restraint and a ever so slight hint of excitement. The music is also restrained and noble.

'Smaointe...' is dedicated to her grandparents, Aodh and Mháire Uí Dhúgain. This is not a new song: it was on the B-side of 'Orinoco Flow' single and appears on the Japanese import 6-tracks. Sung in Gaelic, it is a heart-warming song with a lot of love and affection. The use of keyboards gradually grows as the song progresses. Her voice complements the keyboards, perfectly. This is a song that glows. Finally, the song fades into a dream...

A wonderful way to finish an album.

Summary

Considering all the rap, pop, rock and Christmas albums (both studio and live) that has been rushed out for Christmas, this album will give an the customers a musical alternative, though in general it is difficult to describe. Compared to her previous albums, this is Enya's best work to date (it certainly is her most mature). I'm surprised how simple her music appears at first, but when listening to it closely, there is a lot of activity, suggesting a high degree of craftsmanship. Recordingwise, it's almost a perfect album (I found a very slight volume drop in 'Caribbean Blue' track, but that could be the disk and it's only a minor quirk): Nicky Ryan has again done a tremendous job in producing the best sound possible. Much of the songs are in Gaelic lyrics, provided by Roma Ryan I won't comment on because I don't know Gaelic. But the English lyrics paint clear and passionate pictures.

It is a thoroughly enjoyable work.

I won't give ratings. The above comments speak for themselves.

Cheers,
Mik.