Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., June 21, 2002
ChieftainsThe Wide World Over (RCA Victor/BMG)
ClannadA Magical Gathering (Rhino) Putting out a Chieftains compilation is a no-brainer. They don't make bad music, and it's likewise hard to go wrong with Clannad, the poster band for Celtic New Age. No surprise then that both Irish bands have had stellar compilations come out recently. Like their elderly brethren in the Rolling Stones, the Chieftains are celebrating a 40th birthday, while Clannad racks up 32 years as an entity. For Clannad, it's been a family affair; Máire, Ciarán, and Pól of the Brennan clan (sister Enya achieved solo success) joined with cousins Noel and Pádraig Duggan in 1970 and haven't stopped since. Rhino's 2-CD set follows Clannad from their folk beginnings as the premiere Irish language band ("Níl Sé Ina Lá," "Dúlamán") through their Eighties New Age dabblings ("Theme From Harry's Game," "Newgrange"), and into their commercial Nineties profile in soundtracks (The Last of the Mohicans' "I Will Find You"). That New Age tag was more a byproduct of their music's ethereal nature than by design, as the 34 tracks herein reveal. The gorgeous melodies, celestial harmonies, and ancient spirituality remain resplendent throughout, leaving A Magical Gathering a collection for the ages. That pack of upstarts known as the Chieftains have always plied their Irish tunes with gusto, but have never been satisfied being Eire's ambassadors to the world. They've taken particular delight of late in juxtaposing their music with other cultures, from the Chinese Ensemble ("Full of Joy") to Ziggy Marley ("The Redemption Song"), and while the results are sometimes contrived, it's never less than adventurous. Here's Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos ("Guadalupe"), Ricky Skaggs ("Cotton-Eyed Joe"), and Diana Krall & Art Garfunkel ("Morning Has Broken"), as well as fellow Irishmen Elvis Costello, Sinead O'Connor, and Van Morrison. A highlight is "Rocky Road to Dublin" with Mick and the boys singing, "whack fa lol de rah" like it was doo wah diddy. (It must have been a hoot to be a fly in the Guinness at the local pub after that session!) Traditionalists note that Columbia/Legacy has reissued a number of Chieftains LPs, as well as titles by the Dubliners and Clancy Brothers, should your pint glass be empty.