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Only Time The Collection (2002)
Lord of the Rings OST (2001)
A Day Without Rain (2000)
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image © Warner Brothers Records 2015
(06 December 2015) The first album of all new material from Ireland's most wide selling singer songwriter Enya is entitled Dark Sky Island (Warner Brothers (USA) 553070-2, 2015). After a rather unceremonious departure from the Brennan family band Clannad with their manager and wife Nicky and Roma Ryan, the artist's self-titled album was released 1986. Since that time the 54 year old has become one of the world's most popular female artists, winning four Grammy awards and selling over 80 million records worldwide. Our review of her Only Time collection in 2002 considered her first five albums while the Amaranthine review resumed coverage of the artist's first new release in five years. A collection of seasonal recordings entitled And Winter Came was released in 2007. Now almost a decade later, Enya has returned with Dark Sky Island.
Our editorial staff began listening to Dark Sky Island on a promotional stream over a month ago and initial reactions were sadly that the album echoed former work extremely closely to the point of being samey. However, with over 30 listens now behind us, we can clearly say that the new Enya album has grown on us significantly and is most certainly a keeper. This is not at all to say that one will hear a radical departure from the formula that Enya and the Ryans have called Enya's own for almost thirty years. Enya's departure from Clannad has made Celtic style music accessible differently than other artists following her path, most notably her sister Maire ("Moya") whose solo work away from Clannad departs in a similar, but not same, direction.
We particularly appreciate how Britain's The Star Telegram summarized Enya's style and sound. "That timeless sensation is intensified by Enya, her quicksilver soprano layered to the moon, singing of elemental things — the ocean, the sky, the stars, the human heart — which proves both pleasurable and mildly problematic." The artist indeed has found a winning musical combination -- layered vocals, and lush primarily electronic instrumentation and string-oriented arrangements -- that works in the studio, but won't translate well to a live setting. This suits her personal style where live performances are almost as unheard of as a willingness to interviews.
Like her other records, here the music is composed by Enya whose credits also include all instrumentation and vocals. Lyrics are by Roma Ryan and the album is produced by Nicky Ryan who also does the engineering while arrangements and mixing are done jointly by Nicky and Enya. There is a double bass part on "Even in the Shadows" performed by Eddie Lee. The physical CD package's full-color 16-page booklet has lyrics, translations and gorgeous photos of the artist.
The non-imposing sound of Enya's music makes it soothing in the background, but with careful and intense listening, it is as powerful and engaging as classical material or progressive rock. Her lead vocal and harmony layers demonstrate the significant talent that this woman brings to the industry and her listeners. Dark Sky Island is comprised of tunes spanning different styles. Listeners are drawn into the project with the opening track, "The Humming," a mid-tempo and extremely well-arranged track with vocals, vocalise (the humming), and powerful bass lines that balance more tenderly produced but very lush vocals.
The ballad "So I Can Find My Way" showcases the artist in lead vocal with more subdued, but quite effective backing harmonies delivered against a slightly starker arrangement. Another one of the album's ballads is "I Could Never Say Goodbye." While the most starkly arranged track on the album and with almost none of her characteristic harmony layers, Enya's vocal clarity is best illustrated in the lyrical delivery. Yet another ballad, the album's title track, delivers a sharp contrast between lead vocal and extremely warm and lush harmony layers. Here Enya shows her range by delivering a male-sounding contrasting harmony.
"Even in the Shadows" is the most accessible -- and perhaps the standout -- track on the album. With a pulsing arrangement as its foundation tension is wonderfully built with layer upon layer of vocal in the song's verses and released most dramatically in the chorus. Although it sounds entirely different by comparison, other writers have given it the potential of "Orinoco Flow." Enya's first single from the album, "Echoes in Rain" is similar to "Even in the Shadows" but lacks the depth of lyrics in the chorus. "The Forge of the Angels" is s long orchestrally oriented full of Enya's layered vocalise amongst a dark arrangement.
The album has just departures from English. These begin in "Sancta Maria," a lush and memorable mid-tempo hymn whose lyric comprises only the title. "Astra et Luna" (The Stars and the Moon) is a stunning ballad sung in latin, Enya's operatic lead contrasted with the lush harmonies of a rich chorus. The most formulaic tune, but as accessible and memorable as some of the others, is "The Loxian Gates." Delivered in Roma Ryan's made-up Loxian language, the rich arrangement backs a lush multi-layered vocal delivery. The album closes with the tender ballad "Diamonds on the Water." The lyrical harmonies within the chorus are astounding as is the only piano solo in the bridge.
Enya and her team have made another timeless classic album. The album has been issued on CD in both a standard and deluxe versions, the latter pressed with three bonus tracks of a slightly lower standard. With its global return a vinyl LP is expected before the 2015 holiday buying season concludes.
This is an album that is certain to evoke the feeling of similarity from Enya's fanbase. Repeated listening will surely uncover the mysteries that lie within.