The Essential Chieftains covers all of the bases on the legendary Irish folk band’s 40-year career, drawing on the group’s own music for one disc, and its famous, latter-day collaborations with guest artists on the other. As musical ambassadors for the Emerald Isle, The Chieftains has done much to bring folk music to the world while being receptive to other musical influences.
The first disc showcases the ensemble’s dazzling musicianship, led by Paddy Moloney on Uilleann pipes and the others members playing fiddle, tin whistle, accordinan ,and bodhran (the foot-stepping “Lots of Drops of Brandy,” “The Munster Cloak,” which almost sounds like a classical composition); the collection also contains the group’s popular hit, the cinematic- and stately-sounding “The Women of Ireland,” (which is from the Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon).
The second disc consists of duets with what can be considered a who’s who of respected artists: Elvis Costello, Nanci Griffith, Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos, Sting, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, the Corrs, and Jackson Browne (The standouts here include “The Foggy Dew” and “Shenadoah” with fellow Irish Sinead O’Connor and Van Morrison, respectively).
One doesn’t have to be Irish to appreciate the spirited and elegant traditional music that has been the hallmark of the Chieftains’ career.