Well, it looks like those old Irish rogues The Chieftains have managed to do it again - take two different but interrelated musical styles, find the best performers in the genre, and pair them up with their group to create a unique and oftentimes brilliant sound. With this take we return to the connection between Irish traditional and American country and bluegrass music, just like their last album, "Down the Old Plank Road" was - in fact, "Further Down the Old Plank Road" is the recording sessions they didn't have room to cram into the first one. And while with some other artists this would seem like an attempt to make money off of work they'd already done, in this case the work is just as high in quality as the first album was, therefore earning itself the merit of being well worth the surprisingly modest price tag.
This album has a wide variety of both Irish and American pieces on it, opening with the old standard "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy", performed with Nickel Creek to stunning results. Next comes the American folk song "Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel" with John Hiatt, and if it weren't for Hiatt's superbly raspy old-time voice this would pass as a traditional dance from back over on the Emerald Isle. Following this upbeat tune comes a mournful Southern song with Allison Moorer, the solemn "Hick's Farewell", her voice backed quietly by Paddy and his boys and attended to by the sorrowful wailing of Matt Molloy's flute. "Shady Grove" with Tim O'Brien has lyrics that are very American in nature but a tune that, like much of the material on this album, could have come right out of Ireland itself.
The incomparable John Prine accompanies The Chieftains on "The Girl I Left Behind", employing his once-twangy but now warmer and deeper voice to a song that sounds like a lot of his other work - not a bad thing, mind you. The following set with Jerry Douglas contains the Irish tunes "Rosc Catha Na Mumhain" and "The Wild Irishman", both played superbly, as well as an unexpected treat - "The Arkansas Traveler", undoubtedly one of the best-known old-time folk songs that transforms the track from a set of Celtic tunes to a sort of Irish hoedown, as the liner notes put it. After that comes a superbly sad/sweet Irish song, "Lambs in the Greenfield", played with a past Chieftains collaborator Emmylou Harris, to lovely results. In the space of Band 8 Joe Ely shows up with his roguishly rambling voice, singing two tunes that suit his demeanor well - "The Moonshiner" and "I'm a Rambler".
Country legend Don Williams turns up on this album to sing that beautiful old Irish ballad, "Wild Mountain Thyme" with his virtually-trademark deep country voice that gives the classic air a new dimension. Chet Atkins plays on "Chief O'Neill's Hornpipe", which if memory serves was actually recorded back on The Chieftains' first bluegrass/country endeavor, "Another Country", and could be considered the single cheap shot on the album, even though the collaboration is still very high quality. Band 11 contains Carlene Carter's "Bandit of Love" from 1980, sung by the composer and The Chieftains' own "The Cheatin' Waltz", the former taking up a much longer time slot than the latter. The famous Nitty Gritty Dirt Band gives a spirited performance of "The Squid-Jiggin' Ground", a lively little song rather peculiar in subject but catchy in tune, its words having been set to the Irish Larry O'Gaff's Jig by immigrants to Newfoundland, Canada.
Patty Loveless delivers a wailing rendition of "Three Little Babes", an anguish-filled variant of an old English air sung in the Appalachian Mountains. On track 14 Doc Watson plays a sprightly hornpipe popular on both sides of the Atlantic, "The Fisherman's Hornpipe", followed by another famous tune, "Devil's Dream." Long-time friend of The Chieftains Ricky Skaggs lays down another soulful Southern song, "Talk About Sufferin'", written in the gospel singing tradition of the American southeast. The final tune, "The Lily of the West", has been sung by The Chieftains on a past album, "The Long Black Veil", in collaboration with Mark Knopfler. But sung here to a different tune with somewhat altered lyrics by Rosanne Cash, Johnny "The Man in Black" Cash's daughter, the song takes on an entirely different feel, to my ears less appealing than Knopfler's rendition but still enjoyable.
All in all, "Further Down the Old Plank Road" is anything but an attempt to administer one last whack to a long-dead horse, to paraphrase the liner notes of "Water from the Well" (also a great album). Even though American music is the predominate style on the album, it's still a real treat for Chieftains fans and a great listen for any fan of traditional Irish, bluegrass, or country music, or any of the performers above for that matter. Highly recommended!