Monday, 13 January 2014

“A Tear And A Smile” by TIR na n’Og [with Sonny Condell and Liam O'Kelly] (2012 Esoteric Recordings 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...The Land Is Misty...My Eyes Are Too…"

Being a Dubliner I instantly knew what "Tir na n'Og" referred to - translated it's Gaelic for "Land Of The Young" (locally pronounced Tier Nah Nogue). We had the stories rammed down our willing throats in History class in school. It comes from the ancient Irish tales of warrior king Ossian (or Oisin in Gaelic). I've had this Prog-Folk duo's second album "A Tear And A Smile" on original UK vinyl for decades (as well as the other two they did - "Tir na n'Og" from 1971 and "Strong In The Sun" in 1973) and loved them all to bits. Guitarists and singers Sonny Condell and Leo O'Kelly made a lovely racket.

UK released November 2012 - "A Tear And A Smile" by TIR na n'OG [featuring Sonny Condell and Liam O'Kelly] on Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2350 (Barcode 5013929435049) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster and plays out as follows (45:03 minutes):

1. Come And See The Show
2. Down Day
3. When I Came Down
4. The Same Thing Happening
5. Bluebottle Stew
6. So Freely
7. Hemisphere
8. Lady Ocean 
9. Goodbye My Love
10. Two White Horses 
Tracks 1 to 10 are the vinyl LP “A Tear And A Smile” - released in the UK in April 1972 on Chrysalis CHR 1006. 

11. The Lady I Know
12. Heidi
Tracks 11 and 12 are a UK 7" single on Chrysalis CHS 2001 issued in 1972 (both non-album tracks at the time). 

The 12-page booklet features liner notes by noted writer TREVOR BOYD and reproduces two rare 7" picture sleeves (out of Europe) as well as colour photos of O'Kelly and Condell. A word about the original vinyl track line up - the UK album "A Tear And A Smile" is as above - But the American issue came out in October 1972 with a radically different track list. It was their first release is the USA so it used some of the English albums tracks, both the A&B sides of the British 7" single and a trio of tunes from the first album. So you'll need to buy their first release "Tir na n'Og" (which I've also reviewed on Esoteric CD remaster) and you can then sequence the US LP variant as follows:

USA TRACK LISTING (October 1972):
Side 1:
Come And See The Show [1]
Daisy Lady ["Tir na n'Og" CD - Track 3]
When I Came Down [3]
The Same Thing Happening [4]
Looking Up ["Tir na n'Og" CD - Track 6]

Side 2:
The Lady I Love [11]
So Freely [6]
Two White Horses [10]
Lady Ocean [8]
Dante ["Tir na n'Og" CD - Track 13]

 The new remaster has been handled by MARK POWELL and PASCHAL BYRNE and is truly gorgeous - crystal clear acoustic instruments with warmth and clarity on every track. It really is a fantastic job done. I've done tags on both of these guys before (see my Profile and there's a tag for each below which will give you a pictorial list of their work over the years). SONNY CONDELL plays Guitar, Clavinet and Percussion while LEO O'KELLY plays Guitar and alternates lead vocals with Condell. All songs are original compositions and the only guests are LARRY STEELE on Bass and BARRY De SOUZA on Drums.

While the debut album was Half-Folk/Half Prog (with Tyrannosaurus Rex hippy overtones) - this 2nd LP showed a huge improvement in the song-writing department and was accompanied by a really beautiful TONY COX production. It also saw a definite Tir na n'Og sound emerging too (like an older version of Glen Hansard of The Frames or music from the film "Once"). It opens very strongly with a double whammy - the catchy "Come And See The Show" (a song they used to open live shows with when they were supporting fellow label mates Jethro Tull) - and for me the best track on the album - the wonderfully complex and plaintive "Down Day". This Condell original features wistful off-the-cuff arrangements and Nick Drake strings at the end that are truly affecting. It's the kind of tune Kate Rusby might play live in 2014 and blow the audience away with (lyrics from it title this review).

The big acoustic guitar sound of both "When I Come Down" and "The Same Thing Happening" could have been recorded in the 1990s - good tunes with cleverly alternating lead vocals. But the gamely vaudeville jaunt of "Bluebottle Stew" might have been fun to record at the time but now sounds like The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band but not in a good way. Side 2 opens with "So Freely" and continues the duelling acoustic guitars with that Irish brogue in his singing. "Hemisphere" is really pretty with a gorgeous Cello seeing it out while "Goodbye My Love" gets a little Pink Floyd circa "Meddle" in its centre passage. "Two White Horses" sounds like a Simon & Garfunkel outtake from their 1970 "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album. The single "The Lady I Love" is very upbeat but just doesn't grab you with that plaintive feel like one the albums cut would have. "Heidi" - however - is back to that mellow  Irish Folk feel with even some Roy Harper vibes thrown in. It's impressive stuff really...

TIR na n'OG morphed in the late Seventies in the affectionately remembered SCULLION who made 5 albums in Ireland (none are on CD to my knowledge) including the fab "Balance And Control" in 1980 produced by the mighty JOHN MARTYN. Condell even made a CD album in 2013.

TIR na n'OG would definitely be an acquired taste for some. But for me there was always something magical in those hooks and songs - and now their albums have the properly beautiful sounding remasters their catalogue has always deserved…

UK TRACK LISTING for "A Tear And A Smile" (April 1972):
Side 1: 
1. Come And See The Show
2. Down Day
3. When I Came Down
4. The Same Thing Happening
5. Bluebottle Stew

Side 2:
1. So Freely
2. Hemisphere
3. Lady Ocean
4. Goodbye My Love
5. Two White Horses 

USA TRACK LISTING for "A Tear And A Smile" (October 1972):
Fans will need both CDs to sequence this variant of the LP as shown below...
Side 1: 
1. Come And See The Show [1]
2. Daisy Lady [on the "Tir na n’Og" CD]
3. When I Came Down [3]
4. The Same Thing Happening [4]
5. Looking Up [on the "Tir na n’Og" CD]

Side 2:
1. The Lady I Love [11]
2. So Freely [6]
3. Two White Horses [10]
4. Lady Ocean [8]

5. Dante [on the "Tir na n’Og" CD]

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