Polydor 1977 / P&Q Celtic Arts 2020
Journeying through time, majestic observation of pseudo-traditional lore gets a new lease of life, expands its span and peels patina off long-forgotten Rory Gallagher’s parts.
Issued at the time when folk rock was on the decline, Joe O’Donnell’s “Gaodhal’s Vision” remains one of the genre’s most significant – and most underrated records which has stayed under the radar for a criminally long time, despite the top-notch artistry and the presence of high-profile guests. Based on a myth about the Milesians who, aeons ago, left Egypt to travel via Spain to Éire and eventually become the Irish people, it would be an arresting concept even if the album’s composer came up with melodies of a lesser pull – but they’re irresistible and varied enough to warrant that the listener will return to it over and over… and not only the listener.
For four decades Joe – the veteran of such respected collectives as TREES and EAST OF EDEN and many a session – felt the LP didn’t do it justice due to vinyl’s limitations so, after the album had been performed in its entirety at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry in 2017, he decided to mark the opus’ 40th anniversary by a special reissue. Given a simplified title and additional 18 minutes of material, “Gael’s Vision” is a somewhat different version of the record: remastered, remixed to expose the yet-unheard passages from those who played on it back in the day, extended with pieces which didn’t make the cut then, and having members of SHKAYLA, O’Donnell’s latter-day ensemble, weave their lines into the classic tapestry to enhance the earlier arrangements and deliver a few freshly minted pieces. Still, the music, produced in 1977 by flautist Jon Field and engineered by Tom Newman, never feels crowded.
There are moments of reflective loneliness, when Joe’s violin is solely responsible for sculpting an aural image, yet the woodwind and strings of a full orchestra are never far away – sweeping the bowed magic in “The Vision” and “Tara” from a chamber space towards cinematic panorama and romantically scintillating in the previously unreleased “Sea Crossing And Storm” – and neither are heavy riffs which carry the progressive weight of “The Battle And Retreat Underground” where Steve Bolton lays down an acidic guitar part. Traditional motifs may be revealed rather slowly, but they come to the fore in “The Exodus” to take its translucent funk to the dancefloor – possibly a single sign of the record’s period – and on to the more Arcadian locale, infected with adventure and introducing Arabian vibes that spice up the groove of “Caravan” before Dave Lennox’s ivories infuse the vista with a cosmic calmness.
However, if “The Feish” sees baroque-like keyboards feed a playful tune to both symphonic and rock sections to a great effect, “House Of Warriors” and “The House Of Hostages” find O’Donnell’s wah-wah-washed fiddle and Lennox’s jazzy organ in a dramatic setting, while the serenity of “For Trades And Hospitality” is invoked by Uilleann pipes, and “The Provincial Kings” – a new number augmenting the original flow – places Si Hayden’s electric fingerwork in a rarefied air of delicate solemnity. It’s also emanating from the stately sonics of “The Great Banqueting Hall” – only to open imaginary windows to the magnificent epic “Poets And Storytellers” which allows Rory Gallagher to joyously jive and roll a slider across the frets, and then to elevate the celestial “Lament For Coire Sainnte” with his exquisite acoustic lace. Just as unplugged, Jim Litherland’s licks add depth to “Tribes” – another cut left on the shelf back in the day – and let Bolton do the last swirl, although there’s an extra finale on the bonus DVD, a document of the aforementioned Coventry concert, with dancers and projected visuals.
Worth the wait, it’s a triumphant comeback of a unique slice of history that doesn’t sound dated – prepared for rediscovery, “Gael’s Vision” is ready to be recognized as a masterpiece.