Nightfallers CD Cover
Image © 1988 Virgin Records Ltd.
Click on the album cover to visit the artist's own website

Album Review

© Russell W Elliot 1998, 1999

Last Updated: 02 May 1999

Biographical Sketch

Originally signed with the Transatlantic label, Mae McKenna's first recording was with the Scottish folk rock group Contraband. Prominent producer Peter Sames heard the band's music on the radio and contacted the record company asking to produce Mae as a solo artist. Not yet writing herself, her debut solo self-titled album contains cover versions of other artists' material.

Two further albums with the label entitled Everything That Touches Me (1975, Transatlantic (UK) TRA 321) and Walk On Water (1976, Transatlantic (UK) TRA 345) both featuring the beginnings of Mae's somewhat unique Celtic and American folk/country influence, followed. Mae writes, "they were both more electric than what I have been doing recently, but are nonetheless in the same ballpark." Mae became convinced that the record industry was not for her through an unfortunate turn of events where her band was sacked by the label while her contract was enforced for a further five years.

During this period, Mae's sensually pure vocal quality led her to begin an extremely successful studio session singing career. She also developed a love for arranging vocal harmonies. Mae is best well known for her "vocal accuracy, musical knowledge and inventiveness." She has worked with "Sting, Ultravox, Living In A Box, Scritti Politti ABC, Wet Wet Wet, Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Cliff Richard and Donna Summer." Her work also includes recordings with Camel (1991, Dust And Dreams), Jerry Donahue - The Backroom Boys And Girls (1990, Close Encounters) and she most recently collaborated with Miriam Stockley in the Adiemus-style Shabala (1998, Virgin Rhythm Nation (Germany) 846321).

Mae McKenna
Mae McKenna
Image © 1998 Mae McKenna/
Used with permission of Mae McKenna

Persuaded to try the record industry again by a friend who loaned her a four-track studio and heard Mae's writing, she returned with the release of the stunning album Nightfallers (1988, Virgin Venture (UK) CDVE18 and Virgin (Japan) VJCP4). Mae writes, [the album] "set out to explore a new musical area, the creative use of voice in a modern musical setting. The blending of different ethnic musical styles and the unusual combination of traditional, acoustic and up to the minute electronic instrumentation proved to be highly successful." Mae's followup album, Mirage and Reality (1991, Kadence (UK) KAD-1) continues to chart the journey of her highly innovative musical style. (Click here for our review.)

Mae's new album Shore To Shore was released on Mill (UK) Records (MRCD015, 1999) in May 1999. Plans to reissue Mirage and Reality later in 1999 are now firm. Mae is seeking to license Nightfallers for a reissue as well. Second hand record dealers inform us that the Nightfallers CD is quite rare and due to limited distribution, few have even heard that Mirage and Reality exists. Both of these back catalog albums are highly recommended.

Nightfallers Album Review

In the build-up to the release of Shore To Shore we thought it would be a good time to review Nightfallers for internet audiences. As the album was released in 1988 before the Japanese developed a passion for bonus tracks, their pressing is identical to the UK release. Recorded in London and Dublin, the self-produced eleven-track recording lasts just over 36 minutes and fully illustrates Mae's vocal virtuousity with songs in a wide variety of styles. Production quality is superb in all respects.

The tracks are primarily penned by Mae McKenna with co-writers Kathy Manuell, Ross McFarlane and Jackie Challenor; Mae's brother, Hugh McKenna, performs on the album and wrote "Sayonara." Mae wrote "Blue" and arranged the traditional "My Lagan Love" herself. Mae performs all vocals and a vast array of accompanying instruments including violin, DX7, acoustic guitar and percussion on the title track. She also plays acoustic guitar on "Fields Of Green." A full track list with writing and performing credits is presented at the conclusion of this review. Note that Mae continue to co-write with these individuals on the Mirage and Reality album.

The Nightfallers album opens with a brief glimpse of the title track which has been mixed directly into a brilliant blend of electronic and traditional instruments, including uilleann pipes and harp, that back Mae's solo verses in the folk-rock tune "Karisola." Choruses within the song only begin to demonstrate Mae's vocal arranging talents.

The album continues its exploration of the broad range of styles that characterise Mae's solo work. As the songs of the album unfold, the evolution includes acoustic, a capella, traditional folk and folk-rock styles. Vocal arrangements become more complex and the over-dubs produce the sound of a vocal ensemble.

"Moorings" is sung solo in a purely acoustic format backed only with Fionnuala Monks' harp. The a capella "Ochone" has the sound of a traditional vocal tune but was written by Mae with Ross MacFarlane. Sung in a similar style, with only a very light traditional backing instrumentation, Mae's version of "My Lagan Love" is vocally arranged with extensive multi-tracking that creates the warm sound of a choral ensemble.

Far and away our favourite track on this album, "Fields Of Green" is a folky track with Mae's light acoustic guitar backing, sung primarily solo except with light multi-tracking in the choruses. It most clearly illustrates both the clarity of Mae's stunning vocals and her superb arrangement skills.

Supported by traditional uilleann pipes, flute, tin whistle, bodhran and bones, the almost jig quality of the vocally multi-tracked "Visions Of Time To Come" could easily be equally at home on a Clannad or Capercaillie album.

The heavily vocally overdubbed tune "Blue," backed with only bass and bottleneck guitar, reveals Mae's most soulful bluesy voices. With the broad range of octaves presented, the song certainly presents the texture of a vocal ensemble and is a testament to Mae's love for complex vocal arrangements. In a development from "Blue," the song "Manderley" continues to illustrate Mae's bluesy, soulful solo voice filled with emotion in a classic ballad style backed primarily with piano.

Another instrumentally- and vocally-rich folk rock is the stunning track "Sayonara" which also features a lovely Spanish guitar solo by Peter Cairney. The song features both tremendous solo vocals and chorally arranged overdubs. Nightfallers culminates in the title track that closes the album. Here lush multi-tracked vocal choruses take control as they join Mae's solo voice to create a musical masterpiece with warm electronic Celtic and Asian instrumental backing.

In conclusion, Nightfallers is a tremendous example and wonderful introduction to Mae McKenna's virtuous vocal and arrangement talent. The album certainly has a timeless quality and must be heard to be fully appreciated. We sincerely hope that plans to reissue Nightfallers are realised so the album may be more fully appreciated by listeners and enthusiasts worldwide.

Sound samples of Mae's work are available for internet audiences. Click here or on the album cover above to visit Mae's website where additional information and the samples can be found. The author would like to thank Mae McKenna for providing background information used within this review and Virgin Records for not objecting to our use of the album cover artwork above.

Nightfallers Writing and Performing Credits

Nightfallers (Introduction) Mae McKenna/Kathy Manuell
Vocals, Violin DX7, Acoustic Guitar and Percussion: Mae McKenna

Karisola Mae McKenna/Kathy Manuell
Vocals: Mae McKenna, Keyboards: Hugh McKenna
Guitar: Jamie Moses, Drums: Graham Walker
Uillean Pipe and Harp: William Jackson

Moorings Mae McKenna/Ross McFarlane
Vocals: Mae McKenna, Harp: Fionnuala Monks

Visions Of Time To Come Mae McKenna/Kathy Manuell
Vocals: Mae McKenna, Uilleann Pipes, Flute and Tin Whistle: Brian O'Briain
Bodhran and Bones: Mel Mercier, Guitar: Martin Denning

Blue Mae McKenna
Vocals: Mae McKenna, Bottleneck Guitar: Peter Cairney

Ochone Mae McKenna/Ross MacFarlane
Vocals: Mae McKenna

Sayonara Hugh McKenna
Vocals: Mae McKenna, E Max: Peter Beckett
Spanish Guitar: Peter Cairney

My Lagan Love Trad. Arr. Mae McKenna
Vocals: Mae McKenna

Fields Of Green Mae McKenna/Jackie Challenor
Vocals and Acoustic Guitar: Mae McKenna

Manderley Mae McKenna/Jackie Challenor/Graham Walker
Vocals: Mae McKenna, Double Bass: Danny Thompson, Piano: Hugh McKenna

Nightfallers Mae McKenna/Kathy Manuell (as track 1)

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