InteReView: The Chieftains’ Voice of Ages

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How It’s New York:  The Chieftains often play NYC on St. Patrick’s Day, and they have a large NY connection.  Paddy Moloney’s daughter Aedin Moloney runs the NY theatre company Fallen Angels (read our review of Eva the Chaste here).
How It’s Irish:   The Chieftains, as I write below, are the one Irish trad band people who don’t know anything about Irish music have heard of!  And good reason:  this is their 50th anniversary, so even if you haven’t been paying attention, they have crossed your radar sometime.  On their new album Voice of Ages they perform with many indy and roots performers, as well as younger Irish performers Lisa Hannigan and Imelda May.


A version of this article first appeared in Irish Examiner USA.


You can hear Paddy Moloney, and some music from the new CD, on the March 16 podcast.

“It’s All Their Fault!”

The Chieftians and friends at their 21st anniversary in1984

Paddy Moloney has a lot to answer for. “It’s all your fault!” he’s heard from Riverdance folks.
There’s some truth to that–the Chieftains, who have just released their 50th anniversary album, Voice of Ages, are the one Irish band people who know nothing about Irish music recognize.
They were just awarded the National Concert Hall Lifetime Achievement Award, in association with the American Ireland Fund, on March 8 in Philadelphia.
They’ve won six Grammy Awards, performed for the Pope, and contributed music to the 1973 film Barry Lyndon, which brought them international fame.
They’re touring to support that album, and were at Carnegie Hall on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th.
You might expect their 50th anniversary album to be a Best Of, or a re-recording of some of their library.
But, as Paddy explained to me by phone as he began his US tour, they also have a selection of tracks that are unreleased too.
But then again, The Essential Chieftains (2006) already exists, and “we wanted a fresh live feel to it, just to prove to everybody that we’re still here!”
So producer T. Bone Burnett suggested recording with Indy and Roots musicians. Collaborators for this one include Lisa Hannigan, the Decembrists, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Low Anthem, Bon Iver.
And what an album it is. It’s catchy, fresh and fun. Starbucks plays it, and it fits right in. But it fits right in to a more traditional playlist too.



Then again, going after a new collaboration really is quintessentially Chieftains.

Their 2010 album San Patricio celebrated the Irish unit that fought in the Mexican-American War in 1846, and included Mexican-American artists Los Tigres Del Norte and Carlos Nunez.
They’ve recorded with country singers and rock and roll stars including Sting, the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, Bela Fleck, Earl Scruggs, Luciano Pavarotti, and many more.
It’s a mysterious thing that somehow with all the different vocalists and slightly different arrangements, each track sounds absolutely like a Chieftains track.
Even when you hear The Civil Wars’ original song, written for the Chieftains, “Lily Love,” playing as you sip that Starbucks latte, you think “oh it’s the Chieftains.”
Some of that is Paddy’s spirited, lively piping and whistle playing, and Matt Molloy’s sparkly flute.
“Pretty Little Girl,” sung by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, features the full, throaty singing of Rhiannon Giddons.
“She’s a genius!” Paddy enthused.

“She can do Mouth Music, or lilting. When I heard her lilting I said, they must be having me on, this girl must be from Connemara or County Clare!”

There’s an Irish reel smack in the middle of this hoe-down American song, and it fits perfectly.
The Decembrists sing Bob Dylan’s
“When the Ship Comes In,” and it sounds exactly like a trad song here.
There’s a reel in the middle of this one, too. Dylan “wrote that song for Tommy Makem,” Paddy says.

“Tommy and the Clancys used to have Dylan guest with them, and he returned the favor when he did a concert in Madison Square Garden. I composed that reel that goes in the middle of it. I didn’t put a name on it. You get inspired and once you get going and the adrenaline and everything is happening and the buzz… maybe over a glass of wine at night you get a napkin and start to write out the tune. I have quite a few napkins associated with this album.”

Over the years their audience has evolved. It would be a mistake to think of the Chieftains as the Old Guard, that kind of stodgy band that you see for old time’s sake. Paddy may be 70, but what does 70 mean today?
“The amazing thing is the young people, the teenagers,” who come out.
This album is helping to reach them even more. While some of the songs on the new CD have been recorded many times, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the arrangements are different.
Lisa Hannigan on “My Lagan Love” makes the love song whispery, intimate and, well, misty.
The Chieftains onstage in Vigo, Spain
Heartthrob Paolo Nutini sings Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” and the song ends with the Limerick Pipe Band playing it as a march.
And when Imelda May finishes “Carolina Rua,” she gives one of her infectious little “yips” at the end.
The “anchor track” for Paddy is “The Chieftains Reunion.”
It’s a long tune (“Toss the Feathers”), interrupted by individual turns, in Chieftains style (they do this one in concert too). “We got everybody in,” Paddy says.
“The retired Chieftians, Seán Potts, Michael Tubridy, they are still Chieftains as far as I’m concerned, and the baby Chiefs, and sat everybody in a semicircle. There was a tremendous live, party atmosphere.”
That party atmosphere carries into their concerts. 
At NJPAC in Newark on Saturday the 10th, Paddy was gleeful as he emceed the band.
He’d say things like “Sting was meant to come tonight” before going into “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” from The Long Black Veil, and told the audience that the San Patricio pipe band “had air troubles.”
He also smoothly moved the band between the high energy fiddling of Canadian Jon Pilatzke, and the ethereal sweetness of Triona Marshall’s harp.
Scottish singer Alyth McCormack’s pure soprano adds a touch of classical beauty to the evening.
Guests included the Stephen J. Driscoll Pipe Band, dancers from the Peter Smith School of Irish Dancing, and Jayne and Bram Pomplas, ages 13 and 8. Jayne, a young fiddler, met Paddy years ago when she was just 7, and said she’d love to play with them someday.
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When he asked her if she knew any tunes she brought out a list. “She’s gone tall now,” Paddy chuckles.

Her brother Bram plays bodhrán and dances.
The concert captures the feel of the blend with Indy and Roots without duplicating it (which wouldn’t work anyway, since Bon Iver and the others are not onstage with them).
So you get to hear “Wabash Cannonball” segue-ing into “Cotton Eyed Joe,” which Paddy called the “National Anthem of Texas.” And, of course, “I’ll Tell Me Ma.”
All of the players are outstanding, and you really get to hear that when they have their solos.
Matt Molloy’s flute playing  is magnificent. Jeff White on guitar and vocals and Kevin Conneff’s Bodhrán and vocals weave stirringly in and out.
Jon Pilatzke plays a Scottish strathspey in an Americana way; Deanie Richardson plays a bluesy waltz on her fiddle; and Paddy’s plaintive piping on slow airs colors the air.
Alyth McCormack’s “Carrickfergus,” accompanied mainly by Triona Marshall on harp (Triona also plays keyboards) is yearning without being melancholy.
The Ottawa Step Valley dancing by the Pilatzke brothers, accompanied by Cara Butler (she’s Riverdance’s Jean Butler’s sister, and is married to Jon) matches the freewheeling, just this side of uncontrolled energy, the Chieftains create onstage.
But while Voice of Ages is an anniversary album, this is not a Farewell Tour.
Paddy says his wife Rita describes him as “in rehearsal for retirement.”
This year, he says, has been their busiest in ten years. If 50 is the new 30, that means we should have another 20 years with the Chieftains.
And that’s good news. Save the date!

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