Ronan Hardiman
Image © 2000
Ronan Hardiman

Leslie Dowdall
Image © 2000
Leslie Dowdwall
Ronan Hardiman
Leslie Dowdall

album review

contemporary music

Review and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2000
all images used with permission
Formatted for 800 x 600 or larger windows
Last updated: 22 October 2000
Image © 2000 Decca / Universal Music Company

The musical partnership of Ronan Hardiman and Leslie Dowdall now spans four full length albums. The latest project is entitled Anthem. Musical Discoveries' editors were initially introduced to Hardiman's music via the original soundtrack to Michael Flatley's Lord Of The Dance (Unicorn Entertainment / Polygram (UK) 533 7572, 1996). This progressive Celtic soundtrack included vocals by Anne Buckley but was primarily an instrumental masterwork to accompany the modern interpretation of the Irish dance show in a live theatre setting. With full orchestra complimenting modern electronic and rock instrumentation, the extremely dynamic original soundtrack album also stands alone quite well and has delighted the broadest range of audiences.

The Enya-Related Artists web page was the first online source to reveal that that Hardiman and Dowdall recorded earlier under the monniker "Shannon" on the Celtic Classics (Honest Music (USA) HON CD 0007, 1995) album. Themes developed within the album (especially "Ring of Kerry" to "Celtic Dream") can be heard recurring in Lord Of The Dance. The album also has an 'Enya-esque' flavour to it; the artists clearly capitalised on the rise of this style of music in the mid-1990s in creating the recordings.

The team's followup, Celtic Classics II (Honest Music (USA) HON CD 1016, 1997) is a clear development of Hardiman's writing, with themes taking on even more of a contemporary flavour as compared to the first Shanon album. Easily recognisable traditional themes, including Shanon renditions of "Danny Boy," "Amazing Grace," "Auld Lang Syne," and others, receive Hardiman and Dowdall's contemporary treatment on the album.

Celtic Classics
Image © 1995 Honest Entertainment
  Celtic Classics II
Image © 1997 Honest Entertainment

While the first Celtic Classics album had made the identities of the recording artists anonymous, Ronan Hardiman was clearly identified in the second recording. While she is not identified in the album's artwork, Leslie's vocals are unmistakable in both Celtic Classics albums and play a significant role in the sound achieved in both.

Both albums are widely acclaimed new age Celtic works and fortunately remain available online today. You can hear soundbites and order Celtic Classics - An Enchanted Journey from here and Celtic Classics II - The Enchanted Journey Continues here. Click on the album covers to access the label's website.

  Leslie Dowdall
Live in Turku Finland Oct '97
Image © 1997 Tiia Santaverta

Leslie Dowdall is perhaps still best known as the vocalist behind Celtic rock band In Tua Nua until 1990 when the band broke up. Her biography states that in the early 1990s she, Paul Brennan (Clannad) and Ronan Hardiman. The citation likely refers to her work with Shanon and may help explain the Enya-like sound that emerges from the Celtic Classics albums.

Leslie released a pop-oriented single in 1996 entitled "Wonderful Thing" (Grapevine (Ireland) CDG PS211, 1996) backed with "Saturday Night" that did quite well, rising to the top of the Irish pop charts. The song was subsequently re-mixed and released on her own label (LD Records (Ireland) LD1003, 1998) backed with "Crazy" (Willy Nelson) and "Hymn To Her" (Meg Keene) as a Mother's Day benefit single that charted into the Irish top ten.

Leslie was voted best solo female at the Heineken/Hotpress Music awards and her debut album No Guilt No Guile (Grapevine (Ireland) GRA CD220, 1997) remains available today. Her second solo album, Out There (LD Records (Ireland) LD CD 1006, 1998) shows further development and has established her as one of Ireland's leading vocalists. Watch Musical Discoveries Site Updates for our reviews of both albums.

By 1997, with the success of Lord Of The Dance and other writing commitments well in hand, Hardiman released the first album under his own name. In preparation for his "retirement," Michael Flatley commissioned Hardiman to revive Lord Of The Dance and additional material was developed for Feet of Flames in 1998. The followup is more vocally oriented featuring two stunning tracks by Anne Buckley entitled "Carrickfergus" and "I Dreamt I Dwelt" (a unique arrangement of the traditional "Marble Halls" recorded earlier by Enya on Shepherd Moons). Current owners of the Lord Of The Dance album will find it a lovely companion. You can read reviews, hear soundbites and order Lord Of The Dance from here and do the same for Feet Of Flames from here.

Lord Of The Dance
Image © 1996 Unicorn Entiertainment/PolyGram TV
  Feet Of Flames
Image © 1998 Unicorn Entertainment/PolyGram TV

From his Feet Of Flames biography, "In 1990 Ronan Hardiman left his daytime job as a teller with the Bank of Ireland to pursue his dream of one day becoming an acclaimed composer. Hardiman quickly becamse a sought after bright, new talent with the Irish television and film industry. By 1996, when Michael Flatley commissioned him to compose the music for Lord Of The Dance, Hardiman's credits and awards were as impressive as they were international with major commissions from BBC and PBS completed."

The 1996 soundtrack debuted at number one on Billboard's World Music Chart and sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide. The ongoing popularity of the show and its music resulted in Hardiman's emergence as one of the most acclaimed new composers and keyboard voices in Celtic-influenced new age music.

Image © 1998 Polydor


Flooded with offers from around the world, Hardiman chose to accept an offer from PolyGram Records to write and record a solo project. Featuring a unique blend of multi-layered vocals provided by Leslie Dowdall, with electronic piano and percussion rhythms, his 1997 Universal Records solo album Solas has done quite well commercially and spawned the Top Ten French hit "Heaven." The album was released in the UK and Europe in 1998 on the Polydor label.

Although allusions to the Celtic Classics albums are evident, from the opening of Solas, listeners will recognize the lushness of the instrumental arrangements from Hardiman's soundtrack work. Even thicker bass, more robust percussion and extensive vocal layering differentiate the album from his prior work.

Solas achieved gold status in Ireland and, enormously successful in the US, reached the Billboard Top Twenty Charts. You can read reviews, hear soundbites and order Solas from here. As 1999 closed, Hardiman was commissioned by the Government of the Republic of Ireland to compose a piece of music for the millenium.

Ronan Hardiman's latest album, Anthem (Decca / Universal Classics (USA) 012 159 403-2, 2000) builds on the collection of his successes, as he is again joined by Leslie Dowdall. Our detailed review of this latest album follows.

Anthem. Ronan Hardiman's latest album is comprised of ten average length tracks with a couple reaching towards epic. The album opens with the title track, an expansive instrumental laced with extensive vocalise by Leslie Dowdall, who provides the majority of the album's vocals. Rhythmically intense, piano and synthesizer effects are balanced with layers of hooking harmony vocals. Anyone that doubted Leslie Dowdall's extensive range need only listen to her vast excursions in the upbeat "Run Away" which sings of a flight to freedom. Listen for the Beatles' allusion in the instrumental passages.

"Despite my extensive classical training, I've always been very pop-oriented as a songwriter and Anthem is a continuing celebration or the way I've always loved using the two," says Hardiman, who attended the Royal Academy of Music for twelve years as a child and teenager. "Even though Solas did well in the new age market and it had Celtic influences due to my Irish heritage, my melodic constructions and arrangements were purely from pop influences. Anthem is stronger melodically and [also] has a distinctively pop point of view." He concluded, "I love incorporating enthnic and contemporary rhythms and classical ideas into the discipling of the four-minute pop framework."

  Leslie Dowdall
Image © 1999 Leslie Dowdall

Anthem includes a remix of the track "Heaven" released in its original and much ligher form on Solas. The success of the vocal remix on France's Top Forty chart, renamed "Elle Donne," convinced Hardiman to include it on Anthem along with several other songs featuring lead vocals. Universal Classics comments, "The trip-hop minded "That Place in Your Heart" offers a spiritual message of global unity as part of a socially conscious message." Highly accessible in all respects, the track pays tribute to the talent of songwriting and performing team.

Universal Classics continues, "The hip-hop funk of "Heaven" (Waiting There For Me) offers up a prayer that love will be the bridge between earth and life lying beyond. "Salve" is a glorious fusion of operatic classic vocals and contemporary R&B grooves with lush orchestra and choir and features opera diva Roisin O'Reilly." A track of soundtrack proportions with orchestra and choir, its clear allusion to music from Lord Of The Dance emerges as the track develops. "Ancient Lands" does so with even more power, derived largely from the expansive percussion, rich choir part, and thickly orchestral arrangement.

Hardiman's pop influences are revealed most clearly in "Ready For Life," with Leslie's almost spoken vocal track drawing a similarity to Madonna. Although more worldly in construction, "Where You Are Now" shares this vocal style. In both, harmony vocals work well with the lush instrumental arrangements, and are unmistakably Ronan Hardiman. "Never" is a dreamy instrumentally-lush track with swirling vocals while parts of "Worlds Apart," produces a club sound blending modern electronic arrangements with layers of vocals and throbbing percussion.

The album concludes with a striking remix of "Heaven." Leslie's lead vocal is mixed way up in the verse and is much more clear than in the Solas version and the instrumental arrangement is lush but lighter than the earlier recording. A lovely closing to the album, the new mix showcases Hardiman's lead vocalist very nicely.

Closing Remarks. Ronan Hardiman's recordings with Leslie Dowdall begin with modern interpretations of traditional classics, run through elaborate electronic arrangements of contemporary new age numbers and delve into modern and highly accessible pop-oriented tunes. Hardiman's work on Lord Of The Dance and Feet Of Flames is a testament to the composer's virtuosity. However the progression of the Hardiman / Dowdall team's work from Celtic Classics into Solas and now Anthem is clearly a positive one that is drawing international acclaim to the artists. You can read further reviews, hear soundbites and order Anthem at here.

Anthem is a tremendous album—a stunning collection of instrumental and vocal blends—superbly written and performed by Hardiman, Dowdall and guests. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, this is an album worth extensive exploration—most certainly a must listen!

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