The Chieftains ‘Voice of Ages’ (Hear Music/Decca) 4/5

Irish folk music legends the Chieftains celebrate fifty years in the business this year and to celebrate this considerable achievement (on a par with the Rolling Stones) have continued to pursue collaborations with musicians outside their own field, thereby ensuring that Irish traditional music is heard by a vast global audience than would otherwise be the case. This expansive musical policy began over twenty years ago with the famous album recorded with Van Morrison, and has subsequently extended to American folk and country, Spanish and Latin American musical genres as well as with UK and US pop giants such as Joni Mitchell and Sting to name but two. For their latest endeavour, leader Paddy Moloney and the boys have not rested on their laurels and have hooked up with some of the newest artists to emerge on the folk and pop scenes and the gropu sound refrshed as a result. This album works best where those collaborative artists perform in a field which has close roots to Irish traditional such as bluegrass or American country music more generally, Galician folk and surprisingly even rhythm and blues. For the latter compatriot Imelda May contributes her own bluesy vocals on the catchy opener ‘Carolina Rue’ while there is an obvious empathy between the band and bluegrass harmony group Pistol Annies on ‘Come all ye fair and tender ladies’. Likewise the collaboration with the Punch Brothers works beautifully on two numbers, ‘Lark in the clear air/Olam punch’ and ‘The frost is all over’. Long-time collaborator Galician piper Carlos Nuñez is right at home on ‘Lundu’ which recalls the wonderful album ‘Pilgrimage to Santiago’. Where the album is less successful is on the inclusion of pop singers who tend to relegate the band to mere background instrumentalists, or on the Lisa Halligan contribution ‘My lagan love’ which to these ears comes across as a dated version of 1980s Clannad/Enya. Nonetheless Scots singer Paolo Nuttini seems perfectly at ease with the band on a fine rendition of the gentle ‘Hard times’ while there are even shades of the Pogues on ‘When the slip comes in’ by the Decemberists, which is an uptempo and utterly pulsating number. With an extensive UK tour that begins in late May and continues through June, the Chieftains have constantly sought to both extend and promote their sound which was illustrated to thrilling effect on their last and superlative album ‘San Patricio’ co-produced by Ry Cooder and devoted to the folk music of Mexico, and they remain a mesmerising act in live performance.

Tim Stenhouse