Irish music fans will get two divas for the price of one when Moya Brennan hits the road with Manhattan’s own Ashley Davis for a spring tour.
Brennan, the legendary voice of Clannad, will be touring behind her excellent new live CD, “Heart Strings.” Davis, who counts Brennan as a huge influence, will be showcasing songs from her newest, “Down by the Sea.”
For fans of Clannad and Brennan, “Down by the Sea” will be a welcome addition to your collection. Of course, the pop landscape is littered with pale imitators of the ethereal Celtic sound that Brennan pioneered, but Davis is not one of them. She is reverent to her influences while clearly finding her own voice.
“It’s nice that someone flatters you with their influences,” says Brennan during an exclusive interview with the Irish Voice newspaper.
“Ashley and I hit it off at a Christmas concert I did at Connolly’s a couple of years ago. She told me she was putting some songs together. I offered her my studio to record and she was thrilled.”
That generosity is not surprising to the people that know her, but Brennan shrugs off any talk of that.
“Some of my band members have recorded in the studio when they were putting their own things together,” she says. “I am fortunate to have a studio and I know how tough it is to break into the music business; it’s tough out there. Life is too short not to help out.“
For anyone whose musical knowledge of Brennan stops at Clannad, “Heart Strings” is a perfect blend of old and new that puts you up to date with the rewards of the Grammy nominated music she has made apart from the band.
“This is a song that’s off my first album and it’s a song about standing up for what you believe in,” Brennan says as a way of introducing “Up Against the Wind.”
The tune has been completely reworked. The driving bodhrans that propelled the original recording have been replaced with a mélange of swirling orchestration, columns of flamenco style guitar and hyperactive flutes.
This live album is not just a ploy to milk the back catalog. It is a transformation of the songs with the help of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, which weaves a wall of strings and flutes behind Brennan’s gorgeous voice.
“It was nice to have a reason to do it,” she says of the live album. “Working with the Liverpool Philharmonic was a chance not to be missed.
“The pressure is on; you usually have three-four nights to choose from. We had one night and got a good lot out of it.
“There are also some recordings from some German concerts I did last year. What was nice about this is that I have a great band and a great band with the orchestra. The response from the audience was amazing.”
While “Heart Strings” is a treasure for Brennan fans, she includes Clannad classics for fans of that period in her career.
“In a Lifetime” doesn’t suffer one bit from the absence of Bono duetting with her. The brooding, reflective vibe of signature tunes like “Harry’s Game” and “I Will Find You” is lightened by wind chimes and gentle harp melodies.
Brennan’s band weaves a delicate musical tapestry around her supple harp playing on “Tunes Medley,” creating a new palette for her to explore with each change in tempo. It shifts effortlessly from gentle airs to spirited reels to jazz flourishes throughout “Heart Strings.”
As it is in her best work with Clannad, Brennan’s voice is the most stunning instrument on the album. It assumes the same ancient, ethereal quality that you hear on record, which is all the more amazing when you consider that there is no studio enhancement at play in this live setting to assist in getting that tone.
“Heart Strings” is a rich retrospective of Brennan’s career so far. In talking to her, you quickly realize that this is a very brief back for an Irish icon focused on the future.
“I was just sitting down with my husband (and manager) about this last night,” she replies when asked what was up next. “We were plotting out our next steps because there are so many kinds of albums I’d like to record -- a traditional album, a cover album of the music I love. I just want to do so much!
“One thing I wanted to do for the longest time is a cover album. Last year I sang at a wedding and they asked me to sing “Songbird,” which is a beautiful Fleetwood Mac song. That renewed my interest in recording other people’s songs.”
She is particularly jazzed about a new project that involves the biggest names in Irish music coming together to talk to her about their craft for a two-hour documentary. Mindful of her broad and deep reach within our culture, she has been approached by producers to conduct a talk show.