Voice of Ages

The Chieftains celebrate their 50th anniversary by releasing an album that celebrates tradition by welcoming new generations of artists into the world of Irish ballads, gigs, and reels. The connection between Paddy Maloney and the Chieftains and the group of guest artists is the integrity of their work. It is a great honor to be asked to record with the guardians of Irish folk music, and with legendary producer T Bone Burnett who oversees the project. As Maloney stated “With 50 years of glorious music behind us I can think of nothing more exciting than to spend another 50 years collaborating with the best voices of the future.” Each guest collaborates with Maloney on the arrangement of their piece.

Voice of Ages opens with the seasoned lads teaming up with Dublin’s spunky rockabilly lass Imelda May. Although she tamps down her wild side a wee bit for “Carolina Rua” her backing band updates the tune’s rhythm with rockabilly guitar. The Chieftains wrap it up by rolling into a rousing reel “The Ladies Pantalettes” punctuated by a spirited yelp from the lady. A country twang permeates “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies” sung by the country super group, Pistol Annies. The Chieftain’s kick up their heels for a good old fashioned hoe-down on “Pretty Little Girl” which features The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Burnett oversaw the debut release from The Secret Sisters so it’s no surprise that the pair show up on the ballad “Peggy Gordon.”

Fresh from winning a Grammy for their debut album, the folk duo Civil Wars leapt at the opportunity to record “Lily Love.” Another Grammy winner for Best New Artist and Alternative Music Album, Bon Iver takes on the murder ballad “Down In the Willow.” His whispery muted vocals add nuance and mystery to the piece while adeptly translating the sad guilt of the protagonist. The new-grass band, Punch Brothers, contribute two tracks; “The Lark In the Clear Air/Olam Punch” is a traditional piece that features vocals from the Chieftains’ Kevin Conneff, while “The Frost Is All Over” features The Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile. The Decemberists seemed destined to work with The Chieftains, so epic in scope are their story songs. The Low Anthem, in turn, also seems a perfect match for the elder statesmen. “School Days Over” opens with a chorus of children, their innocent voices fading as the mining ballad lays out the sad truth of child labor. Back to the Isles, the Chieftains work with fellow Irishwoman Lisa Hannigan. Her pensive, ethereal vocals are matched by the nearly elegiac pace of the arrangement. Scotsman Paolo Nutini shows another side to his interpretive abilities by taking up Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More.”

As on most of their guest laden albums The Chieftains end with selections that allow the band to shine. Appearing with the group on one “Lundu” is the Galician musician Carlos Nunez who plays the gaita, a Galician bagpipe. The most amazing collaboration is with NASA astronaut Cady Coleman. She borrowed Paddy Maloney’s pennywhistle and Matt Malloy’s Irish flute. She played those instruments on the International Space Station and that recording graces “The Chieftains In Orbit.” Truly, the Chieftains are seeking out voices of further generation. What a wonderful way to celebrate a 50th anniversary!

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)