The Chieftains

Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions

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In the wake of the success of O Brother Where Art Thou?, this collaboration between Irish supergroup the Chieftains and some of country's best known neo-traditionalists was almost inevitable. Luckily for all involved, the idea actually makes a lot of sense too. Most of the ballads and work songs that were born in the Appalachian hills have deep roots in the traditional music of Scotland, England, and Ireland, and crying fiddles, ringing banjos, and tales of drunkenness, outlaws, and loss are woven deeply into both cultures' musical heritage. Through most of the tracks, the instrumentals work better than the vocal tracks, but the droning "Katie Dear" (performed by the impeccable Gillian Welch and David Rawlings) and Alison Krauss' mournful "Molly Bán" are both heart-wrenching and beautiful no matter what continent they came from. Other highlights include Béla Fleck's firey banjo rolls on a trio of reels, and the underrated Patty Griffin's turn on the traditional "Whole Heap of Little Horses." While the interpretations on Down the Old Plank Road turn out to be successes, the sum of these collaborations aren't as good as the Chieftains doing what they do best: traditional Irish music with subtle contemporary flourishes. Still, anyone who enjoys the music of any of the guests on this release will be pleased with the entire package; sweet and mournful, historic and unprecedented, fun and engaging all rolled into one.

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