Before they signed to Columbia and became an international sensation (and long before they ever recorded a concert album in China or collaborated with Tom Jones or Luciano Pavarotti), the Chieftains recorded several albums for Ireland's respected Claddagh label. The Very Best of the Claddagh Years features 12 tracks from that period, and although the material is more strictly traditional and the playing a bit more conservative than it has since become, the group's taste for intricate arrangements is already apparent. Never satisfied to simply bash straight through a set of two or three reels in unison, on tunes like "Tadhair Dom do Lamh" and "The Walls of Liscarroll," they essentially take turns soloing or playing in twos and threes before finishing up in an exuberant ensemble. These were the days before Matt Molloy, so the flute playing was somewhat more restrained than it has become, and Peadar Mercier's bodhran is a bit ponderous. But for the most part the playing is exciting and expert, and the recorded sound is very good. The only complaint might be with the disc's length -- surely the band's first five albums could have yielded more than 40 minutes of worthwhile material.
AllMusic Review by Rick Anderson
Strike the Gay Harp [Jig]/Tiarna Maigheó [Lord Mayo] [Air]/The Lady on the Island/The Sailor on the Rock [Reels]