Although this two-CD Clannad collection is titled Essential, it's not quite an overview of career highlights. It's more a compilation of their most commercially successful period in the 1980s and '90s, with all of the 30 tracks having been recorded between 1982 and 1997. This means there's nothing from the half-dozen albums preceding 1983's Magical Ring, which had a folkier and usually more traditional nature than the ones they did for RCA and Atlantic. However, if this is the decade-and-a-half of Clannad you prefer, or with which you're most familiar, it does a reasonable job of distilling much of their appeal during this era into two discs. Their big U.K. smash "Theme from Harry's Game" is here, of course, as are their smaller TV theme hit "Robin (The Hooded Man)" and their duet with Bono, "In a Lifetime." A duet with Bruce Hornsby ("Something to Believe In") and a track with a guest vocal by Steve Perry ("White Fool") take care of the other celebrity cameos. Overall the material varies between songs close to the band's folk roots; others whose slicker arrangements can make them sound like fusions between Irish folk and adult contemporary or new age music, and even moments on which they verge on mainstream pop ("Closer to Your Heart" doesn't sound much unlike late-'70s Fleetwood Mac). The constant factors distinguishing them from other mainstream artists are the Irish folk elements, which come through strongest in their haunting lead and backup vocals, as well as some of their instrumentation (particularly the harp). It seems like disc two is less commercially oriented than the first CD, with a higher proportion of Irish-language songs, though the programming is smooth enough that fans of Clannad should enjoy most or all of this release.