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Tir Na Nog "A Smile and a Tear" (LP)
 

Tir Na Nog "A Smile and a Tear" (LP)

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Genre: folk
Rating: 4 stars ****
Title:  A Tear and a Smile
Company: Chrysalis
Catalog: CHR 1006
Year: 1972
Country/State: Dublin, Ireland
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+
Comments: gatefold sleeve; US pressing white label promo copy
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 6284
Price: $20.00

So, the first thing most folks want to know is what the name means ... As far as I can tell it's Celtic translating roughly as 'land of the young', or 'land of eternal youth' ...    

Showcasing the talents of former Tramcarr 88 singer/guitarist Sonny Condell and singer/guitarist Leo O'Kelly, the two first met in 1969. Like Condell, O'Kelly had already spent some time playing in a string of Irish show and rock bands. Meeting in Dublin, Condell and O'Kelly discovered they shared a common interest in music spanning genres from folk to hard rock. They began writing together; relocated to London and began playing the folkie club circuit as Tir na nOg. The resulting publicity saw Island Records turn them down, but Island's Chrysalis subsidiary signed them to a recording contract.

Their second studio release and the first to see an American issue, 1972's "A Tear and a Smile" actually saw two variations. The original UK release featured ten new studio numbers produced by Tony Cox. For the American market for some reason Chrysalis chose to compile a mixture of two tracks from their 1971 self-titled, Bill Leader produced debut ('Daisy Lady' and' 'Dante'), along with a re-recorded version of 'Looking Up' (also featured on the debut), and seven compositions from the UK sophomore release. Included on the UK album, but missing from the US release were four tracks - 'Down Day', 'Bluebottle Stew', 'Hemisphere', and 'Goodbye My Love'. Since I've never heard them, I can't comment on any of those tracks. Guess I'll have to shell out for a UK version of the LP someday. Featuring all original material, the US release showcased four Condell compositions and six from O'Kelly. Musically the album wasn't a major departure from the debut. Producer Cox may have pushed them a tad in the more mainstream direction, but for the most part the LP offering up another intriguing mixture of subtle Celtic folk influences, Eastern shadings, along with an occasional nod to more conventional pop and rock ('Come and See the Show'). If you were expecting to hear a pair of guys shoveling out the kind of staples you'd expect to hear at your local Irish bar, then just stop reading here. Note I used the word 'subtle' in describing the Celtic influences. With the exception of O'Kelly's 'Looking Up', those Celtic influences came in the form of acoustic instrumentation, open guitar tunings and occasional ethnic percussion (yes Condell slapped away on a bodhran from time to time). The other thing about the album was that in spite of comparisons to other early-1970s folk-rock acts like Dr. Strangely Strange, or The Incredible String Band, for the most part Condell and O'Kelly managed to avoid the dreaded hippy excesses that plagued those contemporaries. They both had great voices and were wonderful harmony singers; their songs were typically short and quite melodic (thanks in large measure to support from drummer Barry De Souza and bassist Larry Steele), and while there were plenty of hippy influences in the lyrics, they were kept largely in check. As mentioned above, each man wrote independently and while they shared a common outlook, judging by these performances Condell had more of a rock orientation (check out 'The Lady I Love'), while O'Kelly had more of a folk leaning..

- The first couple of times I heard 'Come And See The Show' it made zero impact on me ... That said, when the song's charms finally hit me, it was like a ton of bricks - It may have started out as a folk number, but when De Souza and Steele joined in it turned into a real rock song, complete with a great chorus. What a great 'pick up' song. rating: **** stars
- O'Kelly had the more folkish outlook and voice and those traits show on the pretty acoustic ballad 'Daisy Lady'. Yeah, the lyrics were a bit on the twee side, but you couldn't help but smile when you heard O'Kelly's earnest delivery. rating: *** stars
- With its quirky lyrics, open tuned guitars, and laidback hippy vibe, 'When I Came Down' sounded like a Donovan outtake. Mind you, a quality Donovan song, but a Donovan song nevertheless. rating: *** stars  
- O'Kelly's 'The Same Thing Happening' was one of those rarities - a highly thought provoking and literate lyric cloaked in an immediately likeable melody. This one featured one of O'Kelly's best vocals and some of their best acoustic guitar strumming. rating: **** stars
- 'Looking Up' was one of the few tracks to feature a distinctive Celtic feel, though it was wrapped up in a surprisingly aggressive acoustic guitar arrangement. Great harmony vocals and the pounding melody made it one of my favorite performances. rating: **** stars
- Remember how Donovan could occasionally actually get funky and rock out on some of his better performances (think 'Mellow Yellow'), well 'The Lady I Love' managed to achieve the same results. You wouldn't think two guys with acoustic guitars could get down and dirty, but Condell and O'Kelly managed to pull it off on this one. Brilliant. Chrysalis tapped it as an instantly obscure single. rating: **** stars
- A stark acoustic ballad (just O'Kelly with acoustic guitars), normally a track like 'So Freely' wouldn't have made any kind of impression on me, but this one was so pretty and O'Kelly's performance so engaging and heart tugging that it instantly caught my ear. Another album highlight. rating: **** stars
- Sporting yet another gorgeous melody (courtesy of Condell), 'Two White Horses' reminded me a bit of an Irish version of Simon and Garfunkel. rating: *** stars
- Another sensitive singer/songwriter ballad, 'Lady Ocean' was noteworthy as one of the few songs to include extensive orchestration. One of the more obvious efforts to increase their commercial quotient, to be honest, it didn't make much difference since this one simply never kicked into gear. rating: ** stars
- A delicate slice of acoustic folk with a charming Baroque edge, 'Dante' sported another beautiful melody complete with glorious strumming guitars and some of the pair's best harmony vocals.   rating: *** stars

As mentioned above, Chrysalis tapped the album for a single in the form of:

- 1972's 'The Lady I Love' b/w 'Heidi' (Chrysalis catalog number CHS 2001).  

Normally I'm not a big fan of this particular genre, but have to admit this was a total surprise and an album that I play on a regular basis.

"A Tear and a Smile" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) Come and See the Show (Sonny Condell) - 3:17
2.) Daisy Lady (Leo O'Kelly) - 2:21
3.) When I Came Down (Leo O'Kelly) - 4:33
4.) The Same Thing Happening (Leo O'Kelly) - 4:47
5.) Looking Up (Leo O'Kelly) - 3:23

(side 2)
1.) The Lady I Love (Sonny Condell) - 3:28
2.) So Freely (Leo O'Kelly) - 3:33
3.) Two White Horses (Sonny Condell) - 2:36
4.) Lady Ocean (Leo O'Kelly) - 4:33
5.) Dante (Sonny Condell) - 2:56

The duo recorded a third studio LP (1973's "Strong In the Sun"), toured a bit and called it quits in July 1974.
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