The Chieftans


CD CHOICE:Voice of Ages Concord****

It would have been easy for The Chieftains (who, remember, are six-time Grammy winners) to do a Greatest Hits reprise for this, their 50th anniversary collection. Instead, Paddy Moloney & co have gone for the road less travelled by rounding up a bunch of today’s indie stars and alt.Americana notables to breath some fresh life into an expertly assembled collection of songs.

Just one listen to the stand-out Down in the Willow Garden– a collaboration with Bon Iver – shows just what a noble venture this is; it’s an arresting song featuring spectral vocals and a real sense that Bon Iver has empathy to spare for this style of music.

But as great as Down in the Willow Gardensounds, it has a real rival in how the Low Anthem set about their work on School Days Over.Here, the indie minimalists show a real flair for wringing out every last emotional nuance of the song, and it suggests a whole new direction for the band.

Voice of Agesopens with Imelda May galloping her way with some abandon through Carolina Rua, and there’s an early blast of punk/country/ traditional when Carolina Chocolate Drops attack Pretty Little Girlwith no little sense of verve. Like much on display here, there is nothing gimmicky about the exercise – it’s just a very skilful melding of musical styles.

There are surprises at every turn. The Civil Wars work restrained wonders with Lily Love, while Lisa Hannigan excels herself with her evocative reading of My Lagan Love. The Decemberists ease themselves into When the Ship Comes Inas if they had written it themselves, and Paolo Nutini adds something new to Hard Times Come Again No More.

As produced by the great T Bone Burnett, the album has a real sense that everyone concerned is desperate to avoid clichéd treatments of standards and eager to break new ground. There aren’t any hazy nostalgia vibes, just a vibrant and dynamic work from one of the great trad names who, instead of looking back, are very much looking forward.

A wonderful exercise in musical cross-pollination.

Download tracks: Down in the Willow Garden, School Days Over, Pretty Little Girl, When the Ship Comes In