The Chieftains

Chieftains 6: Bonaparte's Retreat

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This album marked the third in a three-LP arc in which the Chieftains' traditional Irish music intersected freely with the progressive rock boom of the mid-'70s. Originally released in America in 1977 -- and more often referred to simply as Bonaparte's Retreat -- on the Island label, the album was highlighted by the epic-length title track, a tone poem by Paddy Moloney telling of a little-remembered episode in history in which the Irish peoples looked to the French emperor for help in securing freedom from England. There are also lots of lighter moments, and amid the many highlights, sharp-eared listeners will be able to hear, in "Caledonia," some common source material with the near-contemporary Steeleye Span recording "The Mooncoin Jig," off of the latter's Now We Are Six album. This was also the first Chieftains album to feature vocals, courtesy of 17-year-old Dolores Keane. And between the broad canvas, in terms of both music and inspiration, and the lush range of sounds, this was in many respects the peak of the Chieftains' recording career for the decade. Not that they wouldn't do some wonderful subsequent recordings, but as a free-standing, self-contained musical work, this was as bold as the group ever got, without an over-reliance on guest artists and collaborators. Keane's presence sets it apart from prior records in their output, and the recordings that followed immediately after would purport to aim not quite as high, thus making Bonaparte's Retreat unique in their output, at least for the decade in which it appeared.

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