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Clearing Out The Mailroom: The Chieftains featuring Ry Cooder, The Autumn Defense, Paleface

We've got quite a backlog of CDs we've never gotten around to, so we're going to try to chip away at the pile with this regular feature. The plan: to take a few at a time and play each CD for as long as I can stand it.

The Chieftains featuring Ry Cooder (Dublin, Ireland)
San Patricio (Black Rock Records)

Ireland's great musical ambassadors, The Chieftains, work with about as many other artists and take as many oddball chances as perhaps America's greatest musical ambassador, Willie Nelson, does. For that reason, the thought of the legendary Irishmen teaming up with equally legendary Ry Cooder to produce a concept record, featuring plenty of legendary Latin singers, isn't a head-scratcher. Even the fact that the album details a story of immigrating Irishmen who escape the Emerald Isle's potato famine in order to come fight for America in the Mexican-American War -- only to switch sides after arriving -- isn't too terribly far-fetched either. The seamless blending of Irish pipes and fiddles, with Mexican guitars and horns are naturally fused, not forcefully mashed-up. Not surprisingly, it's that adventurous musicality that provides the much-needed gravity for a tale that would be too tall, if it were almost anyone else telling the story.
I made it: all the way through track No. 12, "Luz de Luna." (I'll be going back to finish this story, very soon, however.)

The Autumn Defense (Chicago, Il)
Once Around (Yep Roc)

Wilco members John Stirrat and Pat Sansone bust out an album from this agreeable side-project every few years. With their latest record, Once Around, they seem to have created a record that could easily serve as a bonus disc to their main-gig's 2007 album, Sky Blue Sky. Impossibly laid-back and oozing with a golden, 1970s folk-rock haziness -- especially in the America-esque "Tell Me What You Want" -- there's a pleasing harmonic element here that never becomes overly-engaging, unfortunately. Stirrat's lilting vocals are, again, agreeable, but they lack the throaty soul of Jeff Tweedy at his finer moments. Is it fair to compare this, or any other Autumn Defense record, to any of Wilco's catalog? Perhaps not, but given the similarities in not only personnel, but in the overall sound, it's not exactly a stretch.
I made it: through 4:30 of track No. 5, "Once Around."

Paleface (Concord, NC)
One Big Party (Ramseur Records)

From the very start of this record, Paleface gets to the point. Big, clunky, folk -- or what many call anti-folk -- charms with foot-stomping percussion and an accordion that should make one wonder why there isn't more accordion in modern folk music. Paleface's brusque, cigar-chomping vocals shouldn't fit in so well, but they do. And that's thanks to the sparse production and raw-boned vibe which is displayed throughout. Showcasing a wide array of players and instrumentation (including banjo, trombone and the aforementioned accordion), the songs have individually defined personalities, even though a thread of acoustic-based arrangements bind them together for a welcome bit of cohesion.
I made it: all the way through track No. 8, "See You When the Sun Goes Down."

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