Alan Stivell

A l'Olympia

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Alan Stivell's first live album, recorded not too long after the start of his recording career, is something of a masterpiece, and essential listening for any fan of either Stivell or Celtic music in general. The Breton harpist, who, in addition to his harp, makes use of accompaniment with fiddles, whistles, bombarde, guitars, and Hammond organ, performs a range of Breton, Irish, and English traditional material. This includes familiar fare such as "The Foggy Foggy Dew," "The Trees They Do Grow High," and "The King of the Fairies," and a brace of Breton titles that are more obscure but just as compelling. And he not only comes up to the standard achieved in his studio sides of this era, but exceeds them in one essential respect. Stivell's voice can be an acquired taste on his records, but in a live setting, perhaps owing to the interactive psycho-dynamics of the stage, his singing is infinitely more affecting and attractive. What's more, the audio quality is surprisingly good, with rich presence to most of the instruments and no obvious flaws. Additionally, possibly because of the special nature of the event -- there can not have been too many performances in settings of this scale of Breton or Celtic music, prior to the performance captured here -- the vibe of the entire release is downright beguiling, beyond the palpable musical virtues. It's out of print on CD as of 2010, and even the vinyl goes for a fair amount of money, but this is one of the places to start listening to Stivell.