THE CHIEFTAINS The World Wide Over (RCA Victor/BMG)
Subtitled "A 40 Year Celebration", this compilation CD looks like a deeply flawed product even to a Chieftains neophyte like myself. In attempting to celebrate 40 years of the Irish group it only draws from recordings made during the last 15, presumably for licensing reasons, and all but four of the 19 tracks presented are heavily laden with guest appearances, many from artists blessed with far more commercial clout than The Chieftains themselves are ever likely to attain. The irony is that it's among the celebrity-saturated inclusions that the highlights of "The World Wide Over" are to be found.
Sinead O'Connor does ethereal like a ghost on the chilling "The Foggy Dew", all wispy and haunting, and spines begin to tingle, especially at the thunderous percussion entry. Ry Cooder also plays on this track, but you have to squint deep into the small print to discover this. I would normally run screaming from a Corrs album, but Paddy Moloney's crew coax something close to wickedly bright-eyed charm out of them on "I Know My Love". Van Morrison battles nobly with "Shenandoah", reviving a little of that speaking-in-tongues shamanic chanting, although its effectiveness is slightly curtailed by some strangulated diction. Nevertheless it's a small pleasure to hear him fronting such an elaborate ensemble of chorus and orchestra, with The Chieftains looping and reeling furiously away in the background. They bring the best out of Elvis Costello as well during "Long Journey Home (Anthem)", who side-steps his natural tendency to holler with a performance of surprising dignity and delicacy. Rhythm and blues pensioners The Rolling Stones are called up for a pleasantly raucous version of "The Rocky Road To Dublin", not enhanced by the way Keith (presumably) wedges the "Satisfaction" riff awkwardly into proceedings. The finest moment of this collection, however, has to be Joni Mitchell's "The Magdalene Laundries", a song that passed me by on her "Turbulent Indigo" album here recast with sympathetic accompaniment as a chilling indictment of the church and its treatment of fallen women, a thing of twinkling, sorrowful beauty.
Nevertheless, a great deal of "The World Wide Over" sounds like cultural tourism. Their Ricky Skaggs collaboration "Cotton-Eyed Joe" will be forever blighted for many by the memory of Rednex's later dance desecration of the song. "Morning Has Broken" was recorded with Diana Krall and Art Garfunkel aboard ship, crossing the Drake Passage, on the first day of the new millennium, amidst howling gales and churning seas, yet these turbulent conditions fail to add any grit to the treacly MOR that results. Tracks recorded with Linda Ronstadt and Los Lobos and a Chinese ensemble seem to be uneasy alliances to these ears, whilst The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra's widescreen gloss equally fails to enhance the source material. The cloying booklet is crammed with picture postcard images of Irish whimsy, and some ridiculous notes that sneer pointlessly at "teen idols and boybands who will be lucky to stretch their recording career to four years" and adopt. A needlessly abrupt. And ungrammatical. Style of. Punctuation.
There's almost certainly a fabulously inventive, riotous celebration of 40 years of Chieftains music to be made. I'm also pretty convinced that, despite its many moments of goodness and greatness, "The World Wide Over" isn't it.