Joe O’Donnell ‘Gael’s Vision: 40th Anniversary Edition’ CD/DVD (Self-released) 4/5

Joe O’Donnell might be best-known for his work with the jazz-rock group east of Eden (which group also included the late saxophonist Don Weller). However, his magnum opus must surely be his 1977 concept album Joe Gaodhal’s Vision, which mixed Irish Traditional music with Progressive Rock, Classical and Jazz Rock, producing a unique fusion of musical idioms. The album tells the tale of an epic journey of the Milesian people, reportedly the last race to settle in Ireland, from the middle east to Ireland, effectively the pre-Celtic origins of the Irish people.

O’Donnell currently leads the Celtic/rock band ‘Joe O’Donnell’s Shkayla’ where he performs on electric violin and mandolin, together with providing vocals.
For this 40th Anniversary Edition, we have the original masterwork recordings together with some 18 minutes of additional material which did not make the original album release augmented by Shkayla and remixed and re-mastered. As the album notes tell us, O’Donnell’s electric violin carries the lead, with contributions from the blues guitar legend Rory Gallagher, Steve Bolton on lead guitar, Dave Lennox on keyboards, Theodore Thunder at the drums and Bill Smith on bass. Orchestral arrangements are provided by O’Donnell and producer Jon Field, who also plays the flute on the album. Interestingly, two previously unheard guitar solos from Gallagher are included together with an acoustic guitar on one piece.

The music moves from solo violin to the massed forces of woodwind and strings of a full orchestra. There is variety aplenty on display throughout the album. From dancefloor funkiness to an almost ambient vibe.

O’Donnell had always harboured a desire to expand the imagery of the original album. The year 2017 brought the opportunity to add greater colour and vibrancy to the original formula when the full piece was performed on stage at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry when together with Shkayla the ideas which had been gestating in O’Donnell’s mind for almost 40 years became actuality.

This lavishly produced CD set includes both the original album remixed and re-mastered with the addition, on selected tracks, of current Shkayla members Martin Barter, keyboards, Si Haden, guitar, Adrian Litvinoff, double bass and bass guitar, Aidan O’Brien, uilleann pipes, Ben Haines, percussion and Karen Milne, cahon. Together they weave their magic in and around the original tapestry. For good measure, a Live DVD is included so that you can get the full and undiluted flavour of the music. The CD booklet includes both archival photographs and images of the performance at the Belgrade Theatre. There are also comprehensive booklet notes explaining the genesis of the original album and the up-dated performance.

This is often joyous and uplifting music and is deserving of much wider recognition. If you aren’t already familiar with Joe O’Donnell and his music I urge you to make his acquaintance without further delay. You certainly will not be disappointed. It is a significant piece of folk-rock that seems to defy the natural aging process sounding almost as fresh today as when it was first released on an unsuspecting public.

Alan Musson