Moya Brennan

Two Horizons

lush Celtic-influenced music with
sensual female vocals

album review and artist reflections

production © Russell W. Elliot 2003
review © Justin R. Elswick 2003
all images © Universal Music 2003
used with permission
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Last updated: 31 January 2004
Moya Brennan
Image © Universal Music 2003
click on image to visit artist's website

Musical Discoveries editors have followed the music of Moya (Maire) Brennan and her family for many years. Reviews of Moya's solo albums within our pages have been visited by tens of thousands of visitors. With a distinctively Celtic voice and experience that spans nearly three dozen album recordings, Moya's new album Two Horizons is about to take the world by storm. Read our review of Moya's prior album Whisper To The Wild Water and another review of her live performance supporting Perfect Time during your visit.

The album will draw significant attention from the Enya fanbase not only for the lushness of the vocals and striking similarity of the sisters' work, but for the stunning arrangements that grace the tracks. Below we are pleased to present our review of the album as well as an insightful and up-to-date interview with Moya provided by her management in cooperation with our colleagues at Universal Music. Further biographical information and the latest photographs are available at the artist's website.

  Two Horizons
Image © Universal Music International 2004


Hearing Moya Brennan's voice during the opening track of her new album Two Horizons is like taking a deep drink from a cool stream after traveling through a vast desert. Justifiably considered one of the most unique and influential voices in world music, Moya Brennan has rewarded listeners with a terrific new album full of mystical sounds and sparkling vocals. By turns haunting, melancholy, joyous and adventurous, Two Horizons is a first-rate album that should amaze old fans and gain her many new ones.

Moya worked with well-known producer Ross Cullum (Enya, Tori Amos) on Two Horizons. This collaboration has clearly yielded incredible results. Each track is beautifully produced and features lush layered vocals and dense instrumentation. Moya is joined by numerous musicians on the album including some well-known players such as Maire Breatnach (fiddle/viola) and Anthony Drennan (guitars). Moya and her team have even employed a string quartet on some of the songs. All of this amounts to an album that is both musically rich and lyrically refreshing.

Moya has the type of voice that must be heard to be described. It is hard not to shudder at the loveliness of her voice which sounds as if it has been touched by heaven. Following in the style of her two most recent albums Whisper to the Wild Water and Perfect Time, Moya's voice winds through songs describing ancient travels and lost loves on Two Horizons.

The romantic and historical aspects of Moya's music have always been part of its vibrant charm. Moya also has that typical and uncanny "Irish" knack for writing engaging and melodic songs. Every track on Two Horizons is exceptional. In fact, several of the songs feature snippets of earlier tracks that appear like apparitions and then fade out, lending the album a sense of cohesiveness. However, there are several tracks that deserve specific mention.

"Show Me" is a perfect example of what Moya does best. Soaring strings and acoustic guitar entwine with Moya's evocative voice. The chorus builds into a swell of textured "oohs" and "aahs" as the lead vocal line soars above the sensuous background. "Bright Star" is unusual for the way that it begins with Moya's stacked harmonies performed a capella. The effects-laden strings are transporting. Always comfortable with performing in her native language, "Bi Liom" is a tender and gentle piece that incorporates softly chiming piano and synths. The chilling "Ancient Town" is one of Moya's best . Ghostly synths and reverberating drums conjure an image of a an old windswept and deserted village.

"Sailing Away" is a thunderous and rousing piece that begins quietly but transforms into a moving tribal-touched chant. Reminscent of Enya's "Cursum Perficio," Moya proves that she too can tap into primal and powerful emotions of courage and adventure. The harmony-rich "River" is a fantastic and sumptuous track that features syncopated percussive elements, sweeping strings and a mind-blowing chorus.

Two Horizons also includes a very nice bonus multimedia component featuring video footage and information about the themes expressed in Two Horizons and the creation of the album. While it has been long in the making, the album was more than worth the wait. Although widely-known as the voice of world-famous act Clannad, Moya has increasingly sought to express herself through solo projects. It is highly likely, in fact, that Moya will again soon be a name that is on everyone's lips. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from here. Whatever may happen, this tremendously brilliant artist will be with us for a long time. And that in itself is something to be truly grateful for.--Justin Elswick


Please tell us about your musical influences.

Moya Brennan: The eldest of nine from the Brennan clan and I grew up, I suppose very much with music in the house all the time because my father had a show band where my mother joined him as well on several occasions. So we grew up in this kind of, I suppose this house, very much in the countryside with my father would be rehearsing with the show band in the front room and from my school days and that, with my grandparents that were the master and the teacher at the school I went to. And so they were very much soaked in the tradition of the old traditional Gaelic songs and the poetry of the area. So growing up with one side very much on the traditional side and then listening to my father rehearsing this sort of show band in the front room with anything from, you know Nat King Cole to, you now Everly Brothers to Elvis Presley was quite an amazing childhood agotnd very, very much a fusion of music that has a lot to do with, I suppose the influences that I've had down through the years.

It was once said about you that you were "as Donegal as they come" and yet you were born in Dublin!

I was born in Dublin because my parents eloped. My mother is a native from Donegal. And when I was about two years of age, my parents, myself and with my little brother--who was a baby at that stage--all went back to settle in Donegal. And that's where I grew up for the rest of my life basically and had a wonderful time, childhood and just the surroundings of what Donegal is, which is this amazing kind of landscape of beaches and cliffs and mountains and valleys and just an incredible earthy feel and a rugged beautiness that I would be very biased but you mightn't get anywhere else in the world.

What do you remember about your early performances?

Clannad came about from first of all from there were always instruments around the house. We used to pick instruments up that would have been left over from my father's show band but when, in the kind of the sixties, when the show band kind of era sort of ceased to be and very much the social life was moving into the pubs and the taverns and that. My father bought a pub in Donegal not far from our house. And basically he thought that it would be nice for him to have a place, that people would come and enjoy the music. And he has really done that very much with Leo's Tavern in Donegal. What it meant for us was there was a stage for us to get up and play.

And so when we would come home from school during our holidays my father would allow us a spot before he'd get on the stage and we'd sing anything from, whether it was Gaelic songs or songs that we were influenced with, whether you know it was Beach Boys or Mammas and the Papas, Johnny Mitchell and the Beatles of course. But it was all very, very much mixed up with traditional songs because we just loved music and we felt that anything that we loved we liked doing. Hence the reason we were influenced by the likes of the Beach Boys was because the harmonies of course. And discovering the harmonies and the sounds that we were able to create within the family as was the timber in our voices really had an amazing blend that we discovered together. But what was really strange was, there was a lot of visitors to the pub that used to enjoy our spot and so it was extended and people used to come in early to hear us. But it was also very funny that because we were singing Gaelic songs, and it was very much unheard of to be singing Gaelic songs around the sixties. It was regarded as being sort of redneck or kind of cultchy as they say in Ireland. The locals wouldn't sort of applaud the traditional songs because they thought we were letting our side down. So it was quite, quite amazing in a way but we--I suppose we were stubborn and we you know preceded to do a lot more in the Gaelic language and with these Gaelic songs and I suppose unknown to us, because we weren't writing material at that stage, I mean going around to a lot of the older generation and recording their songs and listening to the stories and where they came from really created an amazing route for us to gain experience for when we started to write ourselves, which was like, it was 6 albums after that.

So it was, it was very much you know, us not listening to people saying: “You'll never get anywhere with Gaelic” but what it was doing was really enriching our own sort of song writing very, very much so and so it was a good thing to do.

And then Clannad had the surprise hit of the eighties with "Harry's Game."

Well it was very much I suppose years and years of touring Europe and being in the sort of folk circuit and being regarded very much as a contemporary folk band. And also steering very much with the cultural aspect. Gaelic always played a big part in our show, on our albums and everything. But in 1982 we were a pproached to write for a TV series for Yorkshire TV. And is was the actual writer of the book, George Seamore , who heard a previous album and heard, I suppose the blend of our voices and he loved that approach and he sort of, with the director and producer came over to see us. And we hadn't a clue what it was about.

It was called "Harry's Game" and we were never political. So we were much weary of getting involved in anything like that because this was about Northern Ireland but when we saw the movie it showed us that the concept of you know killing each other doesn't work. So we took from an old text from County Galway about you know how things will disappear on us if we are not careful and how the moon and the sun and youth and beauty and old age will, you know it's just basically the old saying is really reminiscing about how we are destroying ourselves in this world. So it was, we recorded it and everybody l oved it and we were now in a tour in Germany and in the middle of the tour we heard that the show went out on the TV and by the second showing it was being played all over the radio. And we was absolutely astonished because the song was in Gaelic.

So I mean if we were doing it to write a hit song, you know we wouldn't have written it in Gaelic. Thinking that you know, when somebody says to me well what's it like having a pop song. I say it's not a pop song, (laugh) But we had to come in and do Top of the Pops and it was the first Gaelic song ever on Top of the Pops and it was absolutely amazing. But it was great that we did it on our terms, something like that, that we were actually acknowledged and recognised for something that we really, really believed in. And that's what was extraordinary about that.

Did that change your direction musically?

It did change our path because we were then asked to very much get involved in different movies in TV productions.

Bringing us right up to date, tell us how your Two Horizons came about.

This album came about with the idea of maybe doing a concept album. And album I suppose with a sort of a path of a storyboard in it. It would still have the space to be able to use the imagination. Everybody would have their own way of seeing it. But just to take you on a path, and a journey that would be interesting. So I thought doing something like this will be fun to do and a challenge. I suppose my initial kind of thoughts were you know, what journey it was and where it would bring me and what I would sort of veer in on. But it was really incredible that when I started to think about a concept there was a lot of things that drew me toward the harp. There was a lot of, there was a couple of things given to me; there was this amazing book that somebody brought me in New York and somebody sent me a postcard with a harp on it and there was, I was reading the book about Tara O'Carlan, who is the most famous blind harpist of Ireland.

And I suppose with all the things that was happening around me with the harp. I was afraid for it to go down that road because I suppose the harp is very much an emblem that is used for advertisement and for various things in Ireland. Then I came across different stories about Tara and it was just like as if this story itself took me on the journey because things just kept happening to me all the time and just drawing me to where I am now. And the storyboard being that there was a particular harp that was played on Tara and that it disappeared. And I met a stranger who told me that I was kind of chosen to go on this journey to find the harp. It was my quest and to discover what path it went on, where it kind of disappeared to and where it was now. But you know, the whole thing was that it had an amazing, that it had powers I suppose in a way that years ago the High Kings of Ireland had a creed of justice and truth and honour and were very much into a peaceful time. That when the harp, that the harp transcended this kind of feeling so that,if this harp was found and brought back and, you know play it again on Tara that maybe it would bring back that peace that we so longed for within ourselves or within the world that we live in or even in Ireland itself. So it's kind of a symbol of something to be found and the fact that maybe this symbol would create the kind of world that we would really like to live in.

Where did the title Two Horizons come from?

The album is called Two Horizons because there is a song on it called "Two Horizons," and very much the song is based on Tara, about Tara and just the power of it there. It was no mistake that it was a place that was chosen to celebrate or that people were drawn to because just the vastness and the horizon that you see beyond is just amazing. And one of the mornings that I was up there the moon was just so full. And it was like, you were standing on this horizon and you felt as if you could touch the moon on one side and the sun was, was rising on the other and it was just like the two horizons coming together. It was just the coming together of something that was really important.

Tell us about the recording process.

The recording of this album started very much with Ross Column, who produced the album, coming over here and spending quite a lot of time, I suppose here with me, of just going through very old traditional albums, that I would have been listening to down through the years. Sharing together experience musically just I suppose getting to know each other. And I think it was really important because it is very important for me, for somebody to understand where my music, where my culture, where everything comes from that I've learned, and what I was gonna bring into this album.

So working with Ross was really a wonderful experience and you know, I would go over to him and I would basically sit in front of the mike and you know sing over loads of different kind of backing tracks that he would have and I'd hear different rhythms and riffs and different things and I just you know, would put whatever came, whatever would come to my mind, we basically were putting down. And then you know another week would go by and we'd start shifting through what we had and kind of maybe pinpointing all the strong bits. And it was a fantastic way of doing it because it was like really, I mean it felt like as if we were creating a painting or several paintings and you know all the different colours and the shades and you know were so important. Well with the most important colours, what was the most important figures or the character of everything. And it was a fantastic way of doing it but there were a l ot of moments when things just happened and it just magically just worked.

It was quite amazing and it was fantastic to do and you know I really never enjoyed recording an album so much in my life as doing this. And I'm still excited even talking about it and thinking of what we've achieved. And you know and the sound of it and where it's gone to. It's really exciting for me and I'm just, I still loving it and that's a good sign.

There are some wonderful musicians serving as guest artists.

Yes on this album I suppose I didn't know whether I would have other singers on but it worked out that it was just all me. It was you know, I was the main singer and I did all the vocals and everything and it's just the way it happened. But I have a lot of wonderful musicians on the album, I have my own band on the album, which are fantastic and that we worked with several years now and there is a great spirit within the band and particularly with the traditional music end of it you know.

I mean just the body and that and just the, you know it's just fantastic and it's so wonderful to be able to include that in the album. But I've got fantastic guitar players. For instance Robbie Macintosh, who I admired down through the years, came in and we had a fantastic day just going through things that he was able to hear through my songs. Anton Dreannan who is a guitar player I've used down through the years and but also my good friend Martin Carthy came in and this was a special treat for me because you know I hadn't seen Martin in ages and for him to come in and just share with me and some of the music was a wonderful experience. And just being a friend that was really special for me and I'm thrilled to have him on the album.

I've got a Hurdy-gurdy player Nigel Eaton who was fantastic and it's something that I haven't ever used before or Clannad done through the years. So that was wonderful to do. I have, my very good friend and wonderful fiddle/viola player Moira Brennan, I mean she is, she is one of the best fiddle players in Ireland. And just the feeling and the touch that she has is quite amazing. And then another good friend Una that plays the Cello. And we got two others. I did want to have a bit of a string quartet on, on the album. And also Brendan Monahan, who is a friend of mine from Belfast, plays percussion but particularly the lumbago drum, which is very much a Northern Ireland, it was kind of thing, you know as far as you know down south we have the Elan pipes and up north they'd have the lumbago drums. But it's just the sound of it's just amazing.

And you know we are using a couple of tracks, it's in "Bright Star" it's in "Bi Liom" but it's just the resonance from the lumbago drum it's just fantastic to use and it's really, it was just a treat to use that and to have in the studio, it was great. But I'm just so thrilled that a ll the musicians that I have on the album. There is a lot of earthy sounds and very natural sounds in the album as well, which was very important to have that balance in there with the pipes and the whistles and things like that, along with the kind of he keyboards and the electronics.

How 'bout telling us some of the background on each of the album's tracks Moya. Please tell us about "Show Me."

This song is where I meet my stranger. It's the first time I meet this stranger -- I call him my time stranger because I don't know whether he is from my time or from the past. So it's evocative in that sort of way. And the song is basically saying, after him telling me about this harp, you know I'm sort of looking at him sort of saying, well please show me what you know, guide me into where you are taking me or where I need to go to find my quest, find my harp.

And how about "Bright Star"?

It's a song basically about what the harp represents. And the harp represents that kind of feeling of serenity and kind of that anybody that comes in contact with it or that hears it you know something will happen to you, or there is you know, something will shine in your life. And it's really about the importance of the harp and you know I suppose relating it to a bright star in the sky and sort of it's kind of using it as a symbol to what the harp is to me.

What would you say about "It Changed My World"?

"It changed my world": This is where my stranger is going to leave me and I suppose I'm a bit scared that here I am now, I haven't been told about this fantastic harp and you know when we sort of, when we turn around and we sort of say, well you know if I do this, I can't change the world because you know, you know I'm not important but it takes every single one of us to change the world. And even if it's just one person at a time if we all did it and realised that what we need to do in our own world is very, very important. I was taken on this journey to find this kind of important harp but it kind of involves the world that we do live in and how much we really have to step out of that to kind of help our lives.

The Celtic-tinged "Bi Liom"?

The title means stay with me in Irish. And it's kind of really about here I am very much in my own, scared, not knowing what's ahead of me. And it's really a cry for the loneliness that surrounds the world that I'm sort of getting involved in because I don't know what's ahead of me and I suppose I'm writing the songs in sort of two different ways. I'm writing the songs you'll notice in a way that it's me talking about what I'm doing and I'm also writing the songs about trying to get into the shoes of whoever was on that journey in sort in the third person. So the songs are written kind of parallel in those, in that sort of way. And it's just the loneliness of going into that world scares me.

And how about "Falling"?

"Falling": The is when I happen to come to this sort of medieval castle and with the, the images on the walls that I suppose I fall into this kind of world that I sort of imagine what it was like long ago living in these old castles. Trying to imagine what it was like, like a long time ago and with my eyes transfixed especially on one particular portrait where I spark the harp in particular you know I suppose trying to also involve some sort of a love kind of theme in it in the sense that you know that this portrait that I'm looking at is this kind of good looking Earl with you know, or a Lord or whatever, of sort of me entering his world and kind of falling in love with him I suppose.

Oh, what about "Tara"?

This song for me definitely is going back in time. We are trying to imagine just the joy of and the happiness and the fun and the celebrations of what happened in Tara. And the song itself is kind of based on one of the meetings of the, one of the high kings, meeting his bride at the crossroads and her giving her life to sort of becoming his princess. And just the love story involved in it and the celebrations involved of just that kind of, you know of their wedding and his inauguration and just the whole, the whole sense of that calamity of, of, of partying and the music and everything in the great halls of Tara, which is just the you know, just trying to kind of sense that was really what that song's about.

"Ancient Town" that follows?

This song relates to the harp after it'd been given to the bards of Ireland and handed down to various bards that would have played it through different big houses but would have passed through old towns and just imaging that again what those towns were like but I suppose ending up ancient town itself I sort of had a vision of it being Waterford or Cork being a costal town where these huge ships used to sort of dock and so much trade and so much going on. But that, the harp being so precious and regarded as being a bit of a treasure would have been traded on these ships and so this is the time when it leaves Ireland.

One of our favourites, "Sailing Away"?

The song for me is imagining I suppose again being in the third person, of sailing and leaving, leaving you know my native home, imagining what it was like for people leaving their homes. We got some people who left years ago, they never really came back. So that sense of sadness of where you were brought up where you were born, leaving it and never seeing it again. And I suppose relating it to the harp as well that you know wondering if it would ever return. And I try and give the idea within the song of the roughness of that boisterous kind of feeling of the chorus being in Irish. I'm saying farewell to the men and women of Ireland kind of thing and kind of giving it you know an idea maybe of being on the water, going through stormy times as well as peaceful times and sort of maybe trying to incorporate that into the music of this song.

What would you say about "River"?

"This song is another journey but having now landed and I've sort of said the place is being in the dark continent and you know there is so many huge rivers in the dark continent and sort of the image of going up one of these rivers and all the different tribes living in the rivers. Particularly where there is a connection with the harp in West Africa they have a harp called the Cora harp and so I was fascinated at that connection with the harp as they have in their tradition the Cora harp.

And how about "It Is Now"?

The idea of the harp going with certain tribes to America was interesting to me particularly because having said that if one were to play the harp or to hear the harp that certain privileges would follow you. So with the young girl that has ended up with the harp in West Africa because she could play the harp she was given privileges that she didn't become a slave, she became sort of more you know a maid. That whole idea I suppose of very innocent approach of life in the southern states but also during the civil war the native Americans were used as scouts and so I'm sort of carrying my story with the girl that would have played the harp being protected and then that was, the harp was particularly protected hence ended up in the dessert in America where there were friendly people and people that wanted kind of you know help in any situation. And so that's kind of trying to visualise the storyline in that kind of way in that it ended up in the dessert.

And "Mothers Of The Desert"?

The song itself is basically talking about the secret song somewhere in the dessert that I was coming near somewhere. I mean I relate to the harp as song as well it's just not you know, not continually calling it the harp or sound or anything to do with the music. Yeah I suppose the "Mothers of the Dessert" really is about mothers of great warriors of the native Americans, and that they became the protector of this special harp.

And "Harpsong"?

"Harpsong": I suppose this is the song I end up playing on the harp. And it's this song, I mean came to me quite quickly and it's a very simple tune there is nothing complicated about it. But I just wanted to kind of bring across the purity of the harp and you know trying to make it as sensuous as possible. And particularly with Moira Brennan playing with me and Troy and the whistles it really just, it kind of really gives it a very, very beautiful sound and we also, what we did with this, if you listen to it, we recorded the sound of Tara. And you can actually hear the sound of Tara underneath this tune.

It's just something I thought will be really nice and to bring the harp up to Tara and record you'd never be able to do it because even when it's calm up there, there is a wind. So we'd create you know, if we were trying to record it, but I wanted to have the sound of actually Tara on this piece and that, that's actually what I've got, very, very faint in the background. And it just adds just that little bit more of a mystic mystery sort of feeling to this beautiful instrument that has sort of an incredible sound.

And how about the title track?

It is really the coming together on Tara and it's regarded in that way by historians as sort of something that comes together there. And the morning that I went up to Tara very, very early in the morning, one winter's morning. It was still dark and I was just walking on to the hill of Tara and the moon just standing on my right and it was just so big and it just felt as if I could touch it and then the sun rising on my left and just you know gradually just seeing the horizon just appear in front of me because it's just, you can just see for miles. It was just so gorgeous. And it was just so appropriate that this is where the harp was from and this is where I was gonna bring it back and it was just like this, the two coming together again and just that was it, two horizons.

Where do you think the album stands in your body of work?

This album has been the best thing I've ever done. I love it and I'm so proud of it and it's just taken so much of myself into something that has become really, really important and there is just so much in it. So there is a great sense of happiness in it and there is a great sense of creativeness and everything that you know, the time that I was given to do this was just so precious and so enjoyable and it was definitely the best thing I've ever done and definitely my favourite album and I love it.

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