“Instead of conjuring the spirit of good craic, the pervading mood is overwhelmingly maudlin”: Oliver Wakeman’s Anam Cara is an admirable attempt to do something new

Power ballads overburden a collection of Celtic-infused songs, although there’s no faulting the performances

Oliver Wakeman - Anam Cara
(Image: © Spirit of Unicorn)

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With his 11th album – and the first solely under his own name in 19 years – Oliver Wakeman swaps prog for a Celtic sojourn; and he has assembled an admirable line-up of musicians to join him on latest endeavour Anam Cara.

Hayley Griffiths handles leads vocals, and she’s no stranger to this sort of fare, having sung in the Riverdance stage show and released her own albums in this vein with 2011’s Celtic Rose and 2022’s Far From Here. Her range and control remain as impressive as they’ve ever been, and she brings passion and drama to the material.

Nightwish’s Troy Donockley is most modern prog musicians’ first call for anyone seeking Celtic pipes and whistles, so he’s a natural fit for this project and features prominently throughout.

There’s no faulting the performances or playing, but the album suffers from being overburdened with ballads. Seven of the 10 tracks are overwrought love songs, like The View From Here and Here In My Heart.

Stylistic shifts allow Wakeman to flex his compositional chops, although the lyrics can be clumsy

Far too much of the material is cut from the same cloth and it starts to feel repetitive, both musically and lyrically. There are only so many times Griffiths can pour out her heart into a tune about missing an absent loved one before it loses its emotional potency.

As much as Wakeman seeks to tap into a Celtic rock sound, he never really touches upon the tradition of Irish music made for dancing. There’s nothing here in the vein of Celtic rock groups like The Bothy Band, Horslips or Moving Hearts that suggests joy or even any sense of fun. Instead of conjuring the spirit of good craic, the pervading mood is overwhelmingly maudlin.

The most ambitious piece is Marble Arch, the album’s proggiest moment – a shape-shifting, multipart tale of spies and tragic romance. Even this begins in power ballad territory; but as the story develops, it moves into a swing section, then some shredding guitar soloing, through some classical poses, before returning to the power ballad feel.

The stylistic shifts allow Wakeman to flex his compositional chops, although the lyrics can be clumsy with awkward lines like, ‘Scientists aren’t supposed to feel / it’s the way it’s always been.’ Golden Sun In Grey is a collection of laboured ocean metaphors including, ‘My eyes are like a tide pool that reach towards your hand.’

Anam Cara (a Gaelic phrase that means ‘soul friend,’ a lifelong mentor, guide, and source of support) is an admirable attempt by Wakeman to explore a new musical directions, but it’s hard to shake the sense that it gets stuck in a musical rut.

Anam Cara is available now via Spirit Of Unicorn Music.

David West

After starting his writing career covering the unforgiving world of MMA, David moved into music journalism at Rhythm magazine, interviewing legends of the drum kit including Ginger Baker and Neil Peart. A regular contributor to Prog, he’s written for Metal Hammer, The Blues, Country Music Magazine and more. The author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film, David shares his thoughts on kung fu movies in essays and videos for 88 Films, Arrow Films, and Eureka Entertainment. He firmly believes Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years is the tuniest tune ever tuned.