What's old is new again: The Chieftains at 50, Dion at 72
March 15, 2012
"Voice of Ages"
The Chieftains (Hear Music)
Fifty years ago, about the same time the Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were trying to figure out if some young white Brits could get away with playing Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry covers, Paddy Moloney was gathering together some traditional Irish musicians with a mission to take this time-honored music around the world. Of course, 2012 when the Rolling Stones go out to celebrate a long, influential, and prosperous career, and it’s also fitting that The Chieftains have released “Voice of Ages” to honor their own rich contribution to the world of music. And just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!
While you may not need to be reminded who the Stones are (assuming you’re not one of those kids who tweeted during the Grammy’s wondering who that old guy was that came on at the end –– you know, Sir Paul McCartney), you might be excused if you haven’t quite yet discovered the wonderful Celtic traditional tones of Moloney and his comrades in The Chieftains. However, that’s not for lack of effort on their part. They’ve produced 40-some albums, and often engaging the services of pop musicians as vocalists and venturing into pop music territory to give their unique old world approach a bit of new world cred.
On their classic Christmas music release, “The Bells of Dublin” (1991), they get help from Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, Marianne Faithful, Nanci Griffith, Rickie Lee Jones, and the McGarrigle sisters. On 1995’s “The Long Black Veil,” they collaborated with Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Tom Jones, Mark Knopfler, and even Mick Jagger himself. For 1999’s “Tears of Stone,” they brought in Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Diana Krall, Joan Osborne, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
In the 2006 “The Wide World Over,” Moloney left few creative avenues unexplored as he looked for connections between the Irish classic tunes and instrumentation and American country and roots music, classical, jazz, oriental sounds, as well as pop songs when they allowed for an authentic Irish reading on the uilleann pipes, flutes and tin whistles, fiddle, harp and bodhran. There’s a wonderful cover of the Bob Marley classic, “Redemption Song” sung by Bob’s son, Ziggy Marley, which reveal the Chieftains breadth and the length they would go to make a vital musical contribution.
For “Voice of Ages,” The Chieftains continue to express that generous spirit of the collaboration, bringing some of the more interesting new faces on the current scene to the fore. Working with co-producer T Bone Burnett, Moloney has again fashioned a collection that honors the deep and historic roots of his homeland with some of fresh folk artists of the modern era.
From the first beats of the Irish bodhran drumming, and the quick jig of “Carolina Rua/Reel-The Ladies Pantalettes,” to the official last song, “The Chieftains in Orbit” ––featuring astronaut Cady Coleman recorded playing flute and tin whistle at the International Space Station mixed together with the rest of the group (presumably playing on Planet Earth) –– there’s a bold, bright and musical reminder that music is indeed the one universal language.
There are a couple familiar songs given the Chieftains Irishification treatment: Bob Dylan’s “When the Ship Comes In,” featuring The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy on vocal; Ewan MacColl’s “School Days Over,” with The Low Anthem’s Ben Knox Miller” on the vocal; and the folk classic from the Pete Seeger songbook, “Hard Times Come Again No More, sung by Paolo Nutini with Van Dyke Parks sitting in on piano.
No doubt, Burnett had a role in bringing in these kind of guest players: drummer Jim Keltner, upright bassist Dennis Crouch, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo (who plays guitar on the duet with the Secret Sisters on “Peggy Gordon”), and other support players. Other guest collaborations include the Pistol Annies on “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies,” Carolina Chocolate Drops on “Pretty Little Girl,” Bon Iver on “Down In the Willow Garden,” and The Civil Wars on their own song, “Lily Love.”
These guest spots might attract one’s interest at the start, but in the end as the novelty wears off, it’s a remarkably satisfying thing that happens as these veteran players make this real and substantial “folk music” and you find it stands completely on its own. For “The Chieftains Reunion,” which brings together the four comrades who’ve played together since 1979: Moloney (tin whistle & uilleann pipes), Matt Molloy (flute), Kevin Conneff (bodhran), and Sean Keane (fiddle), with a group of traditional players and dancers.
To the untrained ear, any genre of music can all begin to sound the same, but given time one comes to appreciate the particularly sophisticated instrumental dexterity that makes this complex yet accessible music. You can hear great Irish folk music in every pub in Dublin, it seems, but these world-class musicians take the music to a higher artistic level, and “Voice of Ages” proves it’s no flash in the pan, you know, like those poor Brits, the Stones.
"Tank Full of Blues"
Dion (Blue Horizon-www.OfficialDion.com)
Dion DiMucci started his first group, the definitive doo-wop boy-band vocal group, Dion & The Belmonts, in 1957, and had his career-defining hits in 1961, “The Wanderer” and “Runaround Sue.” A peer to Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, The Belmonts were on tour with Holly and his Crickets, when Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper chartered that ill-fated airplane that took their lives. Eventually Dion went solo, and in 1968 he had a hit with the Dick Holler song, “Abraham, Martin and John,” written in response to the assassinations of President Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., President John F. Kennedy, and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy.
Over the years, Dion has refused to live in the past, and merely tour the nostalgia circuit, but has continued to make recordings, including a series of contemporary Christian releases in the 1980s celebrating his deep religious convictions. In 1989, he was elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and more countless fans he remains the voice of “The Wanderer.” Realistically, there are worse fates
However, Dion DiMucci is not one willing to live in the past, well, unless you mean those great blues records that inspired him in his youth. With “Tank Full of Blues,” Dion remains the one member of the first generation of rock & roll music who continues to make new, credible musical statements. Celebrating the straight blues of Robert Johnson (“Ride’s Blues”) and the early masters (“Two Train”), Dion’s voice sounds great as he leans into these gritty, original songs. He says he could have packed it in, but he’s got a Bluesmobile that still has a full tank, so he’s taking it out for another trip or two around the block.
It’s a solid, fun offering. He mocks celebrity with “I Read It (in the Rolling Stone),” about the magazine that has been a rock and roll bible for many. There’s a great line about asking “What would my man Robert Plant do?” This is a solid blues record, start to finish, salted with fine guitar playing, fun rhymes and Dion’s signature vocal presence.
He throws in enough Bronx macho to let us know that he’s not “as good as dead,” that he’s still looking for love, and “I’m Ready to Go.” But on the last track, he brings some street rhymes to a testimony to God, who is a “life giving lover.” It’s an old school witness, that speaks of “faith, hope, love, wisdom, patience …” All together, this Wanderer seems to have found a home.