See the original "Culling The Herd" post here. A reminder - song and album links let you purchase from iTunes.
One of the first things that Camilla ever told me - via instant message, before we'd even met in person - was that she imagined a past life as a saucy English bar wench. I literally smile every time I think of that.
Camilla and I have a lot in common. Lots. What we don't have in common, much, is music. She's just a little older than I am, but those years were huge transition years in music. She grew up musically pre-new wave and punk, to the point where that stuff must have sounded like nails on a chalkboard. She's also the baby of the family, with an older brother that she absolutely idolized, who had and has a pretty voracious musical appetite, and whose records she was constantly hearing and stealing.
I, on the other hand, grew up musically during the last days of disco and the dawn of new wave. Someone like the Stray Cats - one of my earliest forays outside of 'normal' rock radio - would never have made it on the radio during Camilla's youth, so I was exposed to a different group of artists. Plus, I was the oldest, so I didn't have anyone playing their records in my ear - I was blazing my own trails, so to speak.
Fast forward, and as Camilla and I get to know each other better we start listening to each others' music. There's not a lot of overlap (Lyle Lovett, Alison Krauss, Peter Gabriel), but she's got some Chieftains CDs and I start listening to them a bit. Irish music frankly doesn't do that much for me, but the Chieftains are musical chameleons and relentless collaborators. They also tend to have themes to their records, so they really hold together well.
We've since seen them in Chicago a few times, which is great because we get to spend a couple days in Chicago and because they really are a delight in concert. The first time we saw them, at one point I looked over at Camilla and she was absolutely glowing, just radiant. That look is one of my favorite memories.
As to the music...
"Another Country" - 3 stars. Hold it.
Something of a mixed bag - they pull in a bunch of traditional country artists, and the quality of the song depends a bit on who's guesting. The Ricky Skaggs, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Emmylou Harris songs are pretty good, but the Chet Atkins and Willie Nelson collaborations just sit there. Final tally is about half in, half out.
"Down the Plank Road" - 4 stars. Dig it.
Another country record, but better than the "Another Country" attempt. It seems sharper and more focused, for one, but the collaborators are a little better, and the song choices just seem to have more spark.
"Fire In The Kitchen" - 2 stars. Dump it.
I keep saying this - it just kinda lays there. As I understand it, the Chieftains were touring Canada, and recorded some informal sessions with the locals as they toured, then decided to release it as an album. I like that idea, but I think that lack of focus shows, as it just doesn't hang together as well as some of their other records. I've listened to it several times, and I can't honestly say I'll miss much of it.
"Further Down The Old Plank Road" - 4 stars. Dig it.
This one, on the other hand, is sharp, focused, and hangs together wonderfully despite the varying voices. It's still undoubtedly a country record. Almost every song makes the cut.