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The Chieftains "The Celtic Harp" / RCA Victor

March 11, 1993|RANDY LEWIS

One of these days, just maybe, the Chieftains will come up with a concept that doesn't work. "The Chieftains Play Frat Rock Classics," perhaps, or "Sousa Goes to Ireland." Until then, the only thing to do is sit back and marvel at the band's supernaturally high batting average.

Fresh from their double Grammy win last month, the boys have released their 30th album, this one subtitled "A Tribute to Edward Bunting With the Belfast Harp Orchestra." This project grew from last year's bicentennial observance of a harp festival at which Bunting gathered 10 of the Emerald Isle's best harpists to preserve their music by committing it to paper. Most of the selections on "The Celtic Harp" were drawn from what became known as "the Bunting collection," although Chieftains leader Paddy Moloney composed "Planxty Bunting" specifically for this recording.

Because the Celtic harp is much smaller, brighter and more percussive than the instruments typically plucked by orchestral harpists, this isn't the relentlessly heavenly strumfest that the title might suggest.

The music benefits further from the colors and textures added by the Chieftains' uilleann pipes, fiddle, bodhran and penny whistle, and one characteristically graceful vocal from band member Kevin Conneff. While some tunes sound as Irish as Blarney Castle, others seem not at all removed from American or even Chinese traditional music. All in all, this is an extraordinarily beautiful, lively and moving collaboration--even by the Chieftains' high standards.

Come to think of it, they'd probably do Sousa great, too.

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