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Album of the week : Voice Of Ages - The Chieftains

The Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones are not the only groups marking their 50th anniversary this year. Take a bow, The Chieftains, founded in 1962 and still going strong under the leadership of Paddy Moloney

When Paddy Moloney started considering possible collaborators for The Chieftains’ 50th anniversary album, he knew the kind of artists he didn’t want: Mick Jagger, Sinead O’Connor, Van Morrison. He’d worked with all of those stars in the past: “I didn’t want to go in that generation,” he explains

“I wanted a newer generation; new kids on the block, you might say. Great indie contemporary stars of music.”

Still, the 72-year-old Irish music titan admits to being a bit nervous about bringing young musicians into the Chieftains fold.

“I was 50-50 about doing it,” he says. “Because I haven’t been happy about what I’ve been hearing over the last 20 years, the music that’s been coming out. I just wonder, is it music at all, you know? It’s all commercial.”

Here’s who Moloney ended up with on Voice of Ages: Best new artist Grammy winner Bon Iver, the Pistol Annies, the Civil Wars, the Secret Sisters, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Decemberists — to name a few. It was the band’s first real collaboration with indie rockers, and Moloney couldn’t be happier with the results. “These younger bands, I could hear what I would call the revival of the bands of the `50s and `60s,” says Moloney. “The music and the great songs and the lyrics.”

Rockabilly singer Imelda May sets the bar high in the opening track with a relaxed, but impossibly joyous take on the Midnight Well oldie ‘Carolina Rua’. The melodic standard set by the song is met by most of the subsequent performances, as the Chieftains hand over the frontperson spot to eager young country stars, indie rockers and neo-traditionalists

Among the highlights are the Pistol Annies connecting the dots to bluegrass with a slow, deliberate and rich version of the cautionary tale ‘Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies’, a sprightly collaboration with the Carolina Chocolate Drops on ‘Pretty Little Girl’, a desolate and haunting ‘My Lagan Love’, with Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, the melancholy Ewan McColl composition ‘School Days Over’, featuring the Low Anthem, and Paolo Nutini showing near-masterful interpretive skills at only 25, on ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’

Elsewhere, Bon Iver, the Civil Wars (who wrote a song especially for the project), the Punch Brothers, the Decemberists and the Secret Sisters sink their teeth into perfectly-tailored traditional songs and covers of more recent material

The album continues with ‘The Chieftains Reunion’ an 11-plus minutes romp that shows the group in fine form as it breezes through a suite anchored by the traditional piece Toss the Feathers. there’s even a song from outer space! NASA astronaut (and flute player) Cady Coleman’s guest stint, The Chieftains in Orbit, is essentially an audio document of her bringing instruments belonging to Moloney and Matt Molloy into outer space, while the album closer, ‘Lundu’, featuries Spanish gaita player Carlos Nunez

Moloney and The Chieftains recently finished a month-long U.S. tour that ended on St. Patrick’s Day at Carnegie Hall. He spends his down time, about four months of the year, resting up in Naples, Florida, at his sun-filled home with his wife, children and grandchildren. There’s a grand piano in the living room and about a dozen tin flutes and other assorted instruments

On most evenings, he walks from his home to the beach with a flute, and plays as an orange sun dips into the vibrant blue Gulf of Mexico. It’s a long way from where Moloney began his career

Born in 1938 outside of Dublin, Ireland, he began playing a tin whistle as a boy and at 8, he learned the uilleann pipes. In 1962, he formed The Chieftains with Martin Fay, Sean Potts and Michael Tubridy and cut a record of traditional Irish songs. It would be six years before the band made another record and several members kept their day jobs for a decade — some worked for the post office and Moloney was an accountant for a building firm. Yet they kept playing and in 1975, the Melody Maker named them band of the year

“I was very determined to spread the gospel of this great folk art,” Moloney said.

Retirement? Not likely.

“My wife was asked about 10 years ago, `Is he ever going to stop?’” said Moloney, grinning. “She said, `Well, I think he’s in rehearsal for retirement.’”

Voice of Ages is an enchanting celebration of a group that has always tried to keep Irish music alive in popular consciousness. Even better, it’s proof of the group’s continued vitality

Buy it here

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April 27, 2012

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