Band makes the world its stage

March 12, 2002|By KNIGHT RIDDER-TRIBUNE

When he started his band four decades ago, Paddy Moloney's ambitions were sincere but relatively modest.

"All we wanted to do was spread the gospel of this great folk art of ours," said Moloney, leader of the Chieftains. "We'd seen what the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were able to do with the great Irish ballads - you know, play Carnegie Hall. We thought ... we'd like to see traditional Irish music get the same recognition."

Moloney, an accomplished piper, doggedly turned that notion into legend and gold: The Chieftains turn 40 this year and - mission accomplished - they have played virtually every famous venue in the world. (Tonight, they'll perform at the Meyerhoff.)

But their success can be measured in much broader terms, thanks in large part to Moloney. A tireless promoter and entrepreneur, he has introduced the Chieftains to a kaleidoscopic mix of musical styles, and collaborated with scores of performers.

"We're still a traditional Irish band," Moloney said, "but we truly enjoy touching upon all kinds of music."

Like country, for example. Later this year, the Chieftains will release the sequel to 1992's Grammy-winning album Another Country, a collaboration with some of the great names in country music.

The timing of the sequel, due this fall, isn't happenstance: Moloney is aware of the resurgence in bluegrass and old-time country music in America thanks to a Coen Brothers movie.

Though his timing is perfect, he's not exploiting a fad. The Chieftains long ago made the connection between traditional Irish music and country/Appalachian folk, starting with Another Country.

On that record, country stars Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Chet Atkins, among others, perform tunes that bear a strong Irish ancestry.

Asked about its current album, The Wide World Over, which celebrates the band's 40th anniversary, Moloney said, "It was put together to reconstruct the pace of one of our concerts. But it's not a `best of' album or anything like that.

"You know, we recently got a career achievement award from the BBC, which we appreciate, but it's kind of an embarrassment. We're still signed to do six albums. We're not done yet."

The Chieftains play the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall tonight at 7:30. Tickets: 410-783-8000.

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