May 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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DVD ReviewDVD Review

Down the Old Plank Road - Live  
The Chieftains - Various Guests (see track list)
  Available on import - RCA Victor 09026 64022 9  
Concert playing time: 108 minutes
DVD Region 1
Picture: 1.33 NTSC
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Two featurettes - 15 minutes approximately
Discography with audio clips for some albums
Amazon US

chieftains

Tracks

1. An Poc Ar Buille - The Chieftains
2. Tennessee Stud - Jeff White
3. Country Blues - Buddy & Julie Miller
4. Down the Old Plank Road - John Hiatt, Jeff White & Tin O'Brien
5. Sally Goodin - - Earl Scruggs
6. Lambs on the Green Hills - Emmylou Harris
7. Rosa Catha - Jerry Douglas
8. Whole Heap of Little Horses - Patty Griffin
9. Cindy / Cotton Eyed Joe - Ricky Skaggs
10. Shady Grove - Tim O'Brien
11. I'll Be All Smiles Tonight - Martina McBride
12. Jordan You're A Hard Road to Travel - John Hiatt & Tim O'Brien
13. Molly Bawn - Alison Krauss
14. Rain & Snow - The Del McCoury Band
15. Katie Dear - Gillian Welch & Daivd Rawlings
16. Give The Fiddler a Dram - Ensemble

This DVD is a concert film featuring the great Irish folk band The Chieftains, noted for their contribution to the soundtracks of such films as Barry Lyndon, Year of the French and Un Taxi Mauve, with an array of guest stars who are key names in American country music, and well known to film buffs from their involvement in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, as well as that movie's spin-off concert feature, Down From the Mountain.

The Chieftains have, over their forty year history, made various crossover projects with artists from cultures outside Celtic music, and Down the Old Plank Road, which began as a CD (released in October 2002) and turned into a concert and DVD, is the group's second adventure in American Country (the first was 1992 "Another Country" RCA 60939). For those who follow the group this concert is the last chance to see on screen founder member harpist Derek Bell, who died in October last year.

The show, which runs around 108 minutes, rather than as advertised 120 minutes, took place at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee, home to the famous Grand Old Opry. Rather than jumping on the "Oh Brother" Country bandwagon as some might assume, this is a continuation of the exploration begun in 1992, a venture which then was perhaps a little ahead of its time. This is no mere gimmicky for the sake of it, for as anyone familiar with Appalachian culture will know, much of East Coast American folk tradition has shared roots with Celtic song, dance and art, brought to the States by 19th century immigrants from Ireland and Scotland. At a folk concert in Blowing Rock in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina last October, I was even surprised to discover that some of the tunes were more familiar to me, an Englishman, than they were to my North Carolinian wife. There is a real common ground between the two musical cultures, though perhaps one which is only being widely recognised now (at least on this side of the Atlantic) with the phenomenal growth of interest in American country music in the UK.

The DVD offers around 90 minutes of music, interview clips rather irritatingly interspersed between all the numbers. This is fine the first time around, but if one just wants to listen to and watch the concert, the sound-bites quickly become annoying. The place for these is as extras, in the same way they are used on feature film discs, and indeed, many of the same sound-bites show-up in two short promotional featurettes, which with a combined length of approximately 15 minutes make up the two hour length as cited on the packaging. As for the featurettes, well they are OK, but little more than promotional material rather than anything serious and in-depth, and they are oddly presented, widescreen at 16:9, but then letterboxed within the central 4:3 frame. Meaning that if one expands them to fill a widescreen TV the picture quality deteriorates markedly.

But then this is a DVD which is never going to win technical awards. The sound is good Dolby Digital 5.1, which is what counts most with a music production. But it could so easily have been DTS. The picture, presumably because this was filmed with American television foremost in mind, is 4:3, and though this is the original ratio, sometimes the shots look cropped as the cameraman simply couldn't fit everyone on stage in. Being shot live under stage lights and using the American NTSC format, the picture quality is no more than average.

But the music is the thing, and the music is fine. There are 16 tracks, spanning the gentle atmospheric opening with the Chieftains alone, "An Poc Ar Buille", to the top tapping feel-good Irish party vibe of the epic "Give the Fiddler a Dram" finale featuring the entire cast including various traditional dancers. In between the mood varies from Alison Krauss delivering the beautiful "Molly Bawn" - a close kin to the more familiar "She Moves Through the Fair" (which featured prominently in the finale of Michael Collins) - to Blue Grass legend Earl Scruggs version of Sally Goodin. Ricky Skaggs, Jeff White and Tim O'Brien have fun on assorted numbers, while Gillian Welch & David Rawlings bring their usual stripped down and stark intensity to "Katie Dear". Emmylou Harris' voice may not be quiet the stunning instrument it once was, but she still delivers "Lambs on the Green Hill" in a way which makes hairs stand up on the back of the neck.

An excellent concert, well worth buying for the music alone. Yet surely with so many top artists the show must originally have been much longer? And as a DVD this is a missed opportunity. Made in 2002, this should have been shot widescreen, as all classical concerts now are, and mastered in DTS. As for the lack of a commentary track, well it would have been fascinating to hear the musicians talking about what the music means to them and what they have gained from bringing American country and Irish folk together. As it is music DVDs still seem too often to be stuck in the mind-set of music videos, and still lag a long, long way in terms of the added value regularly found with feature film releases in the format.

Gary Dalkin

**** 4 - Concert / Music
** 2 - Presentation / Special Features

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