Read nearly any article about the
legendary Chieftains and you will invariably see them described as one of the
most popular traditional Irish music bands in the world. That is certainly apt.
For a remarkable 50 years, The Chieftains have brought their uilleann pipes,
tin whistle, flute, bodhrán, and fiddle to every corner of the globe. They are
truly Ireland’s ambassadors to the world.
But calling The Chieftains traditional and leaving it at that does them a great
disservice. Since their start in 1962, the group—still led by founder Paddy Moloney—has
always sought to expand into new musical areas. Over the years, they have
performed with an astoundingly diverse array of admirers, including Van Morrison, Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, the Rolling
Stones, and even Madonna. Rock giant Frank Zappa—who invited the group
to play at his home—once said of The Chieftains, “I hear traces of not only
Celtic history, but global history in their work, echoing back to the beginning
Never has the group’s thirst for artistic growth been clearer than it is on Voice of Ages, The Chieftains’ new
release on Concord / Hear Music Records. Co-produced by Moloney and T Bone
Burnett, the celebrated roots music specialist, the recording finds The
Chieftains—who’ve previously been nominated
for 18 Grammys and won six—in the company of such cutting-edge contemporary
artists as Bon Iver, the Civil Wars, The Low Anthem, and the Decemberists, as
well as the old-timey string band Carolina Chocolate Drops and the progressive
bluegrass band the Punch Brothers.
“With 50 years of glorious music behind us,” Paddy Moloney recently said, “I can think of nothing more exciting than to spend
another 50 years collaborating with the best voices of the future. “It
just keeps on going,” he says of the band. “I’m already looking ahead at 2013.
Now that I have the recording bug again, I’m mad for it. Retirement is
something I should be thinking of, but I’ll go out with my boots on.”
Tamarkin is the associate editor of JazzTimes