You say potato...
The Long Black Veil
The Chieftains
RCA Victor

As they grow longer in tooth (going on 31 years together now), Ireland's chief exporters of trad music become more and more like Robert Altman, throwing in cameos (explicable and not so) to broaden appeal and strengthen effect. Elvis Costello, Rickie Lee Jones, and Marianne Faithfull climbed on board for 1991's The Bells of Dublin; Willie Nelson, Chet Atkins, and Emmylou Harris were among those featured on 1993's Another Country. And now Paddy Moloney's boys aim for the commercial marketplace with an honest-to-Eire roster of all-stars, with Shane McGowan nowhere to be found.

But the pop-star turns don't mask what lies at the record's heart--Irish music made palatable for the new-age and Triple-A crowd, ancient and pretty tunes of weathered coastlines and mythic heroes and bonnie lassies and creeping fog sung by ancient (The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Tom Jones) and pretty (Sinead O'Connor, Marianne Faithfull, Sting) voices.

In the end, Irish music--with its flutes and tin whistles and Uilleann pipes and harps--either speaks to you or it doesn't; it either moves you to breathtaking heights or despairing lows, or it passes over like a thick fog that clouds judgment and obscures what lies ahead (which, in this case, is endless more of the same). Me, I find this stuff preferable to potato famine, but still prefer Shane McGowan's impending new Popes record if only because he doesn't take his tradition so seriously.

Coffee and croissants
Columbia Records Radio Hour, Volume 1
Various artists
Columbia Records

To its ever-rotating playlist of 5,000 songs, KERA can now add 14 more; if ever a record whispered "public radio" seductively into the ears of station managers, by God, it's this one. Recorded for Columbia Records' Sunday morning (no, really?) radio program that airs in 100 cities, though not in Dallas, this collection pairs the likely (Rob Wasserman with Bruce Cockburn), the cliched (Shawn Colvin with Mary Chapin Carpenter), and the unlikely (Cockburn, Rosanne Cash, and Lou Reed) running through a post-folkie best-of. Leonard Cohen croaks a hoarsely beautiful rendition of "Coming Back to You," Cash and David Byrne pine for unrequited love on the winsome "What We Really Want," James McMurty and Jules Shear take refuge on the "Safeside," and Colvin and Carpenter ride "Shotgun Down the Avalanche." Bonus: Each CD comes with a copy of the Sunday Times, a steaming pot of Chocolate Almond Cinameg coffee, and its own rain shower.

--Robert Wilonsky


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