18 December, 2010

Advent Calendar in Song: Chieftains The Bells of Dublin

The Chieftains are an institution of Irish Folk Music. The approach of Paddy Moloney, arranger and player elevates it to the level of the classical music of Ireland, with an emphasis on virtuoso musicianship. This produces a clean sound, which sadly has led to much poor imitation on movie soundtracks, whipping out a similar but generic celtic sound, even when the film is about the English or the Mexicans or Aliens. At times their approach may seem too measured, but their energy compensates for the occasional lack of spontaneity.

Another way they get back the rougher feeling is when they collaborate with others. After doing an entire album, Irish Heartbeat, with Van Morrison, roughly half their output has been guest musician themed albums, the first of these is 1991's The Bells of Dublin a Christmas themed album. The subsequent collaborations include: Another Country (1992 American Country), The Long Black Veil (1995 Rock) Fire in the Kitchen (1998 Canadian Folk) Tears of Stone (1999 Women Singer Songwriters) Water From the Well (2000 Irish folk) Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions (2002 Nashville Country) San Patricio (2010 Ry Cooder)

The Chieftains - The Bells of Dublin
1 The Bells of Dublin/Christmas Eve (with the bell-ringers of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin) (Paddy Moloney)
2 Past Three O'Clock (with The Renaissance Singers)
3 St. Stephen's Day Murders (with Elvis Costello) (P. Moloney, E. Costello)
4 Il Est Né/Ca Berger (with Kate and Anna McGarrigle)
5 Don Oiche Ud I mBeithil (with Burgess Meredith)
6 I Saw Three Ships A Sailing (with Marianne Faithfull)
7 A Breton Carol (with Nolwen Monjarret)
8 Carols Medley: O the Holly She Bears a Berry/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/The Boar's Head"
9 The Wexford Carol (with Nanci Griffith)
10 The Rebel Jesus (with Jackson Browne) (J. Browne)
11 Skyline Jig (P. Moloney)
12 O Holy Night (with Rickie Lee Jones)
13 Medley: 'The Wren! The Wren!'/The Dingle Set - Dance/The Wren in the Furze/A Dance Duet - Reels/Brafferton Village/Walsh's Hornpipe/The Farewell ("Wren in the Furze by Kevin Conneff)
14 Medley: Once in Royal David's City/Ding Dong Merrily on High/O Come All Ye Faithful (with The Renaissance Singers)

Sadly, I couldn't find any links to my favorite song on the album, the St Stephen Day Murders, a collaboration with Declan Patrick MacManus, better known under his slightly less Irish moniker, Elvis Costello. I also couldn't find alt country singer songwriter Nanci Griffith's reading of The Wexford Carol. However my favorite carol on the album is Rickie Lee Jones on O Holy Night, which she lifts magnificently from the beginning (many interpretations start out small then belt the end).

O Holy Night - Rickie Lee Jones

Marianne Faithfull doing I Saw Three Ships A Sailing is the only weak track on the album, through no fault except perhaps not the best match of material to the singer, the tune being a bit sing song for Marianne's cabaret voice. Kate and Anne McGarrigle show their colours as folk stalwarts with a pair of French carols, producing their close harmony over the lilting Chieftains. Then again, I'm just impressed when anyone sings in French. I can barely speak the language.

Il Est Né/Ca Berger - Kate and Anna McGarrigle

While I think it's not a patch on the Costello, Jackson Browne covering his own song, Rebel Jesus, issues a superior version with the accompaniment of the Chieftains.

Rebel Jesus - Jackson Browne

To play you out, I've linked to the traditional carol O the Holly She Bears a Berry, and the instrumental that opens the album with the titular sounds of the church bells of Dublin in full peal.

O the Holly She Bears a Berry

The Bells of Dublin/Christmas Eve

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