It appears that the Chieftains have the ability to pick up the phone and almost expect of right some of the best talent to say "yes" to working with these inveterate collaborators. In 1995 they released "The long black veil" and dutifully artists like Mick Jagger, Sting, Sinead O'Connor, Mark Knoplfer and Tom Jones headed to the studio to join them. Their stellar collaboration with Van Morrison on "Irish Heartbeat" in 1999 was easily one of the best albums of that year. Now on "Voice of Ages" they celebrate 50 years of playing simply magnificent music in a magnificent fashion by pulling together an "A List" of new musicians with Americana allegiances to revisit some classics and have a rattling good time in the process.
True there are a couple of questionable tracks here and it doesn't all work. The ability of Paolo Nutini for one to irritate and annoy by adopting some kind of Irish accent and a bad impression of Christy Moore on "Hard Times" is an incentive for all of us to chip into the fund to construct border controls around the town of Paisley and never let him out. That said there is plenty here to charm, enjoy and positively bounce to. The take of the Carolina Chocolate Drops on "Pretty little girl" positively fizzes energy and Paddy Moloney and his fellow old reprobates are clearly having a whale of a time. Things slow for a lovely rendition by Lisa Hannigan of the standard "My Lagan Love". Yes it does follow the Van Morrison template set in Irish Heartbeat but it is hugely atmospheric and beautifully executed. Equally the brilliant Civil Wars are naturals to perform a gorgeous version of "Lilly love" which you should download post haste. The Punch Brothers grow in stature every time this reviewer hears them and their contribution comes in a playful version of "The Frost is over" which would require you to nail your foot to the floor to stop it tapping along to its lifting melody. Colin Meloy's Decemberists are a obvious choice to undertake a cover of Dylan's "When the ship comes in" and the Chieftains backing is brilliantly restrained. Two real standout tracks are from those masters of Americana - Bon Iver and the Low Anthem. The formers "Down in the willow" is a excellent lament with Justin Vernon's ghostly vocal perfectly suited to infuse it with the right level of melancholy as the Chieftains whip up a haunting backdrop. Equally the Low Anthem's version of "School Days are Over" starts with a chorus of children's voices before Ben Knox Miller great vocal shows you don't have to adopt a mock Irish accent to sing a great folk song by Ewan MacColl. The last word on this album should however go to the Chieftains themselves. The eleven minute plus "Chieftains Reunion" comes with their trademark master musicianship packed with fiddles, harps and tin whistles aplenty and achieves a feat that seems wired into great Irish traditional music namely it makes your heart and head soar at its sheer exuberance. The Chieftains have in recent years branched out into other forms of world music and the exhilarating finale "Lundu" which they undertake with Carlos Nunez the Galician musician who plays the gaita, the traditional Galician bagpipe rounds "Voice of Ages" off in great style.
One fascinating extra dimension to this CD is the Chieftains attempt to colonise the solar system. In essence "The Chieftains in Orbit." sees NASA astronaut Cady Coleman greet the listener with a musical blast from onboard the International Space Station and plays part of an endearing song on instruments borrowed from Matt Molloy and Paddy Maloney. Overall "Voice of Ages" is a very welcome celebration of 50 years of brilliant artistry from this great Irish band. It is to their credit that they have kept this fervent music at the forefront of international audiences over this time and constantly develop a wider base for Irish music. Happy Golden anniversary.
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