Perception being four-fifths of reality, I have to confess that the artwork on this Irish band?s debut album (originally released by the Irish branch of Polydor in 1974) (mis)led me to believe that the band was The Children of Lir and the title was Loudest Whisper. The fact that the title is about twice as big as the band name easily explains my confusion. But thanks to Sunbeam?s usually excellent, extremely detailed liner notes (from Richard Falk), all is made clear about this soundtrack to the ?folk rock musical,? initially performed on January 7, 1973 in the band?s hometown of Fermoy in County Cork. Composed by Brian O?Reilly, the musical is based on the legend of the Irish King Lir, whose children were fated to live as swans. (As such, this should not be confused with Shakespeare?s legend of a completely different King Lear.) The musical was an immediate success, with excerpts screened on Irish TV (which are included here as a rare and welcome 10?-minute bonus track!) Loudest Whisper signed with Polydor and released their debut single about William Butler Yeats (?William B.?, also included as a bonus track, although at the time it had to be scrapped and re-recorded because Yeats? estate objected to the use of quotations from ?The Stolen Child.?) Polydor then suggested the band enter the studio to record an album version of the musical, and enlisted Tir na Nog?s Leo O?Kelly to produce.
?Overture,? in true Musical fashion, opens the album on a classical, string-driven note courtesy the Testor String Quartet, before the ominous choir march into the room followed by some searing guitar solos from O?Reilly. ?Lir?s Lament? is a tearful observance of the changing of the seasons, while ?Good Day, My Friend? has a progy folk vibe a la early Strawbs. The band?s lead singer, Ron Kavenaugh quit to start a solo career in the midst of the sessions (?Lir?s Lament? is his only contribution), but he was ably replaced by the magnificent honeyed voice of Geraldine Dorgan, whose soaring ?Wedding Song? is another early highlight.
Robert Kearney?s lovely flute embellishments carry the gorgeous harmonies of ?Children?s Song,? resulting in a laidback blend of CSNY and Fairport Convention, while the two-part ?Mannanan? presents upbeat, uplifting male/female harmonies in a flowing burst of California sunshine pop reminiscent of Mamas & Papas and The Fifth Dimension. The children of Lir themselves, here represented by a children?s chorus dubbed The Hades Singers, deliver a particularly rousing chorus to the stirring, Wagnerian ?Mannanan II.? You?ll be forgiven if your mind starts to drift off to the aforementioned Fifth Dimension?s take on ?Aquarius? during ?Dawning of The Day,? with the track further strengthened by O?Reilly?s lovely piano touches and lilting melodies. And while ?Septimus? admittedly sounds like vintage Bee Gees, ca. ?Odessa,? the gentle acoustic ballad ?Cold Winds Blow,? with the return of Kearney?s soaring flute ends the note on a pensive note. Finally, there?s an almost religious aura to the finale, ?Sad Children? that reminded me of the Harry Simeon Chorale?s mesmerizing rendition of ?Little Drummer Boy!? Overall, quite a wonderful release that, to Polydor?s eternal shame, was originally never issued outside Ireland.
While the bonus tracks are presented out of context, they?re no less gorgeous, from the nostalgic acoustic folk of that debut single to the 180? about-face they pull on the flip, ?False Prophets,? which sounds like Black Sabbath going glam! By 1976, Dorgan had officially joined the band on guitar and vocals and the band add a bit of an Irish jig to the instrumental break of ?Wrong and Right,? the flip of their second single. Of the two contemporaneous demos also included as bonus tracks, the lyrics to ?Silent O?Moyle? (about ?Lir?s lovely daughter?) suggest it may have originally been intended for the musical, and in fact, O?Reilly re-recorded the musical with Donovan in 1992 and released it on his own Fiona label (in 1994) with extra tracks (although it?s unclear whether ?Silent O?Moyle? was among the additions). So, the impressed and the curious are encouraged to seek that out as well. 8/10 -- Jeff Penczak (15 May, 2007)