De Dannan (formerly De Danann) has been one of the big names in Irish music for many years. And the concept of an album titled Welcome to the Hotel Connemara has some amazingly quirky possibilities -- just imagine some of rock 'n' roll's timeless classics redone in a blazing Irish style. An album like that could surely convince any remaining doubters that Celtic music packs a mean punch with boundless energy.
Unfortunately, this isn't that album. Although there are a fair number of rock classics to be found on this all-instrumental recording -- including "Lay Down Sally," "Love Hurts," "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," "Take It to the Limit," "When a Man Loves a Woman," "Hey Jude," "A Whiter Shade of Pale," "Eleanor Rigby," "Only the Lonely" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- they lack any semblance of a punch.
Some of the arrangements (particularly "Bohemian Rhapsody") are clever, and the execution by several De Dannan musicians and their guests is at times lovely. But the result is still an album of what sounds suspiciously like Irish Muzak, a tepid collection of tunes well-suited to fill the silence on Irish elevators and in Irish doctor's offices and shopping malls. "Eleanor Rigby" is the best on the album, and that's a retread from an earlier De Dannan recording.
It's sad when a great idea goes sour and when a top-notch band falls short of the mark. I'd love to see this concept revisited and performed with a bit more vim and vigor -- that would be an album worth cranking up on the boombox and blasting the neighbors.
De Dannan "Welcome to The Hotel Connemara" HBCD0025
The title, the cover pic which juxtaposes an old Irish countryman complete with donkey alongside a shark finned 50's Cadillac, and the album notes give clear indications where this is coming from. Those album notes state that " - much of Irish music derives from Rock and Roll. Many sean nos tunes and songs were composed and sung by the likes of Ruari McOrbigh (alias Roy Orbison)" and there are a number of similar references to Pearsaigh O'Sledge, Banrion (Queen) etc - geddit?
I just about fell into the cliché of stating that "you'll either love or hate this" but thankfully realised that I did neither. Undoubtedly the idea is worth a giggle, and is the kind of joke that with a few in, you can build on, in a setting like a late night session. But over the duration of a 15 track album it feels like that tongue in the cheek has been planted there so long it's beginning to be painful. At times too you can't help feeling that there is a wish to return to the halcyon days of a hit single a la "Hey Jude" without too obviously chucking the hat into the ring again. Much of the music stands up though, the two Beatles tracks being particularly susceptible to the De Dannan treatment, with "Suspicious Minds" and "The Rocks of Bawn/Take it to the Limit" also being worth repeated listens. On the down side, the twinning of "Sally Gardens/Lay Down Sally" probably seemed a cracker at the time - in reality, Clapton's tune is simply exposed as not being in the same league; whereas, on some of the others the echoey, syrupy guitar/bouzouki of Alec Finn propels them into muzak territory. Unless you knew that it was De Danaan you might be inclined to think it was some old duffers playing for a tea dance. I think it has enough merit to keep it on my car player at present and I do play it quite a bit, but alas never without resort to the skip button.