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Key Tracks: “Down in the Willow Garden,” “When the Ship Comes In,” “School Days Over”
Most folks probably do not appreciate The Chieftains as anything more than a sort of novelty–-a record for March 17th; white music for drinking yourself into a stupor, and that’s terrible.
For 49, going on 50 years the collection of proudly Irish musicians have pumped out over 40 albums. Many of their later works are collaborations (and collaboration usually is just a synonym for rip off/gimmick). However, some of those collaborations have been more legit--with the likes of Sinead O’ Connor, Sting and the Rolling Stones; as seen on their excellent 1995 album The Long Black Veil, and that is just on one album. The prolific Irishmen have also recorded with Van Morrison, Ry Cooder, Lyle Lovett, Jim White and about a bazillion other impressive names.
Perhaps one of the most notable and beloved appearances by The Chieftains was on the 2000 sort-of-soundtrack Brak Presents the Brak Album Starring Brak, which found them cheerfully coaching space-monster Brak through the Irish folk song “I’ll Tell Me Ma.”
Voice of Ages is yet another collaborative effort, and it shows. The album does not feel like an “album” the way that 1991’s Bells of Dublin does–-even though that masterpiece was crafted with the assistance of Elvis Costello, Rickie Lee Jones and Marianne Faithful.
There is an awkward quality to the way that the tracks fit together, as witnessed in the atrocious transitions between the second track “Come All Ye Young and Tender Ladies” and the third, “Pretty Little Girl.” Both of these tracks are okay, by themselves-–no, wait, they aren’t. “Pretty Little Girl” is absolutely atrocious-–a disgusting misunderstanding of the style of music that The Chieftains specialize in. The track is infused with a sort of faux-country style that is more than a bit too proud for the down-to-Earth jingle jangle The Chieftains so expertly execute.
“Down in the Willow Garden” provides some happy relief to this-–created with the help of the omnipresent Bon Iver. The song is distant and restrained, and relentlessly gentle; just as all good Celtic music should be. “When the Ship Comes In” is another great track on Voice of Ages; wherein The Decemberists seamlessly blend themselves in such a way that it feels effortless. Like the opposite of a typical “collaboration.”
Voice of Ages just doesn’t feel complete. Although it does star a wonderfully odd space-flute cameo from NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, and not too many albums can say that.
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