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Fan Review: Feels like home

written by John

One of the great delights about being a fan of this group is listening for the first time to their new albums. This album breaks through the "delight" marker, and takes this listener far beyond. You can find out the group's history and testaments to their talents on the internet, but you need to listen to their singing to have an inkling of the talents these three men possess. This album represents a return to their more established genre in terms of material and orchestral backdrop, and the songs serve to emphasise the vocal talents better than any prior collection. Here is my struggling attempt at objectivity.

The atmospheric and weighty "Going Home" opens the album. The respective and distinctive tonal qualities of each soloist are well in evidence as soon as each sings his share. The song is peppered with crescendos in true classical tenor style. The varieties of textures are astounding throughout this track.

"Red-haired Mary" is a song to which only the Irish could ever do justice. It has cheeky lyrics, and the vocals, while almost confidential, front a monumental orchestral performance from the RTE Concert Orchestra, which almost assaults the senses with soaring flutes, violin strings at times plucked and at others swirling, a glorious tambourine, wonderful brass, and percussion to die for (not to forget the middle break whistling). Very Riverdance-esque in its feel; I defy anyone not to tap their feet (or leap in the air) or clap their hands when this track plays. And the addition of an extra beat at the end of line 2 in the chorus is a stroke of genius. The only truly up-tempo track on the album, and a really spectacular performance. The very essence of Irish charm.

"No Frontiers" finds its feet with a gently tinkling piano. A favourite composer of the group, Jimmy MacCarthy, wrote this song; his linguistic talents are rightly world-renowned. This is the first example on this album of the infinitely delicate harmonies for which The Celtic Tenors are renowned in their more touching performances - and on this occasion, supplemented by my favourite accompaniment, conventional backing vocal "ooohs" and "aaahs". Here they are perfectly complemented and buoyed along by the orchestration. Some other renditions of this song I found rather uninspiring - in their hands, this becomes a dreamily romantic odyssey.

Matthew's solo track, "Galileo", follows. His ability to hold an audience rapt with his performances is well known to his fans - somehow he manages to make that aura surge from this recording too. The mellowness of tone in his delivery and his interpretive skills are qualities which music-lovers come across very rarely, and are matched by very few vocalists of my lifetime.
The song "Silent Sunlight" was suggested by its composer, Yusuf Islam (the former Cat Stevens). It has a glorious meandering melody, profound and deeply beautiful lyrics, and harmonies so utterly perfect as to defy description. Once again, the varieties in texture and strength, and the plaintiveness of delivery are classic, and I have yet to hear any other artists who can match them. Unparalleled vocal arrangements are a standard feature of Celtic Tenor recordings, but this is outstanding even by their standards.

Randy Newman's song "Feels Like Home" follows. He's an idol of mine, and his virtual offspring has been done justice. LOVE this performance - more forceful and rhythmic than previous versions I've heard, but its sensitivity remains intact.

"Better" is Daryl's solo track. A liltingly touching love song, which suits his tonal qualities perfectly. His delivery evidences that he got right inside this song, so convincing is it. More modern in its nature than many of the other songs on this album, with billowing clouds of harmonies as the song approaches its end. An inspired generation gap bridging choice.
The traditional "She Moved Through The Fair" follows. For anyone who has witnessed live Celtic Tenors' performances of "Danny Boy" or "Shenandoah", the perfection of harmony and timing will come as no surprise. They can hold an audience spellbound with their established a cappella performances. This is a simply stunning and astounding performance, where voices alone create an illusion of vocal and instrumental combination.

James follows with "The Wild Mountainside". He has the ability to create colour and emphasis with skilled inflection within a single note. An absolute masterpiece of a performance from him and from the orchestral strings, with gorgeous vibrato vocal support from his colleagues. An endlessly rich, poised performance.

"I Know That You Care" is a new song. Its lyrics are wonderfully positive affirmations of the firm confidence of friendship and love, and the melodic chorus to me is redolent of the great Irish successes in Eurovision (in the days when the quality of the music actually counted). It's catchy enough to make the listener join in the chorus at first listening. A very powerful song, surely set to become a firm concert favourite.

"Dimming of the Day" is another song with overwhelmingly beautiful lyrics, which nestle like a bird with gentle vocal encouragement into the nest of the chorus melody. Each tenor performs his respective verse with such a light touch, it's hard to reconcile that with the conventional tenor power.

"Suo Gan" is a Welsh lullaby, so typical of that nation in its melodic construction. If you are moved by the catalogue that is traditional Welsh music, you will love this track, harp and all. An arrangement where vocals diverge from unison into sublime harmony, and then return the unison with seemingly effortless ease.

And so to the final track, the engaging and irresistible "Westering Home". The ideal uplifting album closer, with its gradual build to the arrival of The Omagh Youth Community Choir, of which Daryl is the founder, then the upward key move to build to the spirited end of the album.

In summary, a marvellous testament to the power of the human voice throughout each and every song. And a triumph of song selection and execution. Each track sounds as though it were specifically written for delivery by this trio. A few great vocal talents can be that persuasive and convincing; make no mistake, this group is in that league. If you haven't seen them performing live, don't miss the next opportunity. This album may be equalled in the future, but I am not sure it will be bettered.