Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Special #2: The Bells Of Dublin

The Chieftains are one of those mainstream outfits peddling their own brand of traditional Irish music, found once upon a time at most big box stores in the “Celtic” section next to the Clancy Brothers. After having something of a boost from Van Morrison, they released a series of albums that featured collaborations with a variety of established artists, all singing to their accompaniment. One of their nicer projects—surpassed only by The Long Black Veil a couple of years later, teaming them with the likes of Tom Jones and the Rolling Stones—was a Christmas album based around The Bells Of Dublin.
Besides presenting a pleasant selection of airs and graces (if you like that sort of thing), the collaborations were unexpected. Honorary Dubliner Elvis Costello contributes the gory tale of a family dinner gone wrong (not for the first or last time) in “St. Stephen’s Day Murders”. The McGarrigle sisters offer a medley of French carols, then Burgess Meredith sets up a Gaelic shepherds’ tale. Marianne Faithfull adds her sweet rasp for “I Saw Three Ships”—contrast that with Rickie Lee Jones, who sounds like she’s either on the verge of tears or a sneeze for “O Holy Night”. Jackson Browne had been quiet for a few years when he came up with “The Rebel Jesus”.
Beyond the “star” aspect, the traditional selections are the glue of the album. The Voice Squad lends support to several carols, as well as the extended dance demonstration of “The Wren” (even if singer Kevin Conneff sounds a little like Popeye on some of his scatting). The final section of blends three carols into a big finish on “O Come All Ye Faithful”, with the organist from a Belfast cathedral playing into those bells.
The Bells Of Dublin will likely irritate those who aren’t fond of Irish music, but we find it awfully soothing. As various CDs (and LPs) have gone in and out of our holiday stack over the years, this one is a constant.

The Chieftains The Bells Of Dublin (1991)—

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