The Chieftains / Van Morrison

Irish Heartbeat

Song Review by

The Belfast Cowboy teams up with legendary neo-traditionalist Dublin combo the Chieftains to demonstrate the sympathetic similarities between Celtic music and American soul. This effort is not a far-fetched fusion so much as a demonstration of cross-influence. In other words, African-American-identified soul music actually takes as much influence from country music as it does the blues. Generalizing slightly, country music traces back to Appalachian folk music, which in turn descended from the Scottish, Irish, and Celtic cultural heritage of the settlers of the American region. And some of the best soul music songwriters and musicians were in fact white Southerners. "Irish Heartbeat" is a song that Van Morrison had recorded for his 1983 album Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. This version is a fine representation of the song, albeit a bit plodding. But the album that took its title from the Morrison song, Irish Heartbeat (1988), was a landmark for both the singer and the group. For Morrison, he seemed reinvigorated to be singing these traditional songs (there is only one other Morrison original; the other seven are traditional) of his native country with the backing of such a fine bunch of musicians. What makes the record work, though, is the seeming uninhibited joy with which everyone performs. Morrison does not try to sing with some strict, traditionalist adherence to some archaic, authentic style; rather, his vocals are approached the same way he sings his own material. As a true artist, he does not recognize, and thus fortify, boundaries between various musical styles; his ease and his comfort in his own skin allow the traditional, the contemporary, the Irish, and the American to all rest easily alongside each other in the same song. Morrison sings with a great harmony from June Boyce: "Don't rush away/Rush away from your own ones/One more day/One more day with your own ones/For the world is so cold/Don't care nothing for your soul/You share with your own ones/There's a stranger and he's standing by your door/Might be your best friend might be your brother/You might never know/I'm going back/Going back to my own ones." There is a conviction in his performance that is simply not found on the original version. Forgetting for a moment that Morrison is from Northern Ireland and the Chieftains are from the Republic, it is as if the singer took his own advice and, by teaming up with the group, was finally at home "with (his) own ones." The droning vamp at the end of the song comes as close as anything since Veedon Fleece (1974) to Morrison's transcendent solo masterpiece Astral Weeks (1968). In fact, there is even some musical quoting, by fiddler Sean Keane and Morrison himself, of the legendary album's "Cypress Avenue." The Chieftains also perform with a driving vigor, the sort of hard edge inherent in the reedy instrumentation and dance rhythms of traditional Irish and Celtic folk that has attracted rock musicians from the Fairport Convention to the Pogues. The significance of the album to the Chieftains' career cannot be understated. Already enjoying some crossover success due to high-profile soundtracks and a stellar reputation from a 30-year career, the collaboration with Morrison brought in a new legion of rock and pop music fans and resulted in further cross-genre collaborations with rock-identified and country musicians.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Irish Heartbeat 1988 Polydor 3:52
At the Movies: Soundtrack Hits 2007 EMI Music Distribution / Manhattan Records 3:52
The Essential Van Morrison 2015 Exile Productions / Sony Legacy 3:52