It was good to have audiophile companies like Mobile Fidelity around, especially when they were doing their gold-disc thing, along with SACDs and now super-vinyl LPs. Mo-Fi's Ultradisc II gold remastering of the Chieftain's 1995 folk album "The Long Black Veil" was a welcome pleasure when they issued it back in 2004.
First, though, let me repeat a few remarks I made about RCA's original release of the album: Namely, I asked what Sting, Sinead O'Connor, Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler, Ry Cooder, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Jones, Mick Jagger, and the Rolling Stones had in common. Well, they were all featured vocalists on this Chieftains disc.
The Chieftains are, of course, the award-winning Irish folk group that play on traditional instruments like the bodhran, uilleann pipes, and tiompan, and come as close to the roots of Irish music as any group alive. Here, they back up some respectable talent in tunes from both sides of the Atlantic.
The most moving are the ballads "Coast of Malabar" with Ry Cooder and "The Foggy Dew" with Sinead O'Connor. The most startling is the title song with Mick Jagger; and, yes, he does still have a singing voice. The most beautifully sung are, again, the two pieces by Sinead O'Connor. The most successful is "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" with Van Morrison, a tune that reached number 71 on the UK singles chart. The best sounding items (there were half a dozen recording locations used) are the ones by Ry Cooder, who has a golden touch with everything he records. The most interesting vocalist is Marianne Faithfull, whose voice had gained a pleasantly distinctive character over the years. The most bizarre but unforgettable track is the one by Tom Jones, a belter, singing the "Tennessee Waltz." (Jones at the time was looking more and more like ex-heavyweight boxing champ Max Baer, a belter himself, so maybe the comparison is apt.) Whatever, any album that has Sting singing in Gaelic and the Chieftains jamming with the Rolling Stones can't be all bad. I've played it again and again over the years, a sure sign of something good.
Here's a track listing for those of you who don't already have the album:
1. Mo Ghile Mear ("Our Hero") - The Chieftains with Sting
2. The Long Black Veil - The Chieftains with Mick Jagger
3. The Foggy Dew - The Chieftains with Sinead O'Connor
4. Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? - The Chieftains with Van Morrision
5. Changing Your Demeanour - The Chieftains
6. The Lily of the West - The Chieftains with Mark Knopfler
7. Coast of Malabar - The Chieftains with Ry Cooder
8. Dunmore Lassies - The Chieftains with Ry Cooder
9. Love Is Teasin' - The Chieftains with Marianne Faithfull
10. He Moved Through the Fair - The Chieftains with Sinead O'Connor
11. Ferny Hill - The Chieftains
12. Tennessee Waltz/Tennessee Mazurka - The Chieftains with Tom Jones
13. The Rocky Road to Dublin - The Chieftains with The Rolling Stones
Yes, as with every Mo-Fi disc I have listened to in the past forty-odd years (half-speed remastered LP to gold-plated CD's), I did hear a difference for the better (particularly with this gold remaster). Is it the gold that makes the improvement, as all the gold remastering companies have always claimed? I've never been convinced, wondering if a carefully well-engineered remastering itself has probably more to do with the improvements. After all, the folks at JVC XRCD don't use gold plating, and their results are equally impressive.
Be that as it may, this gold remastering does sound better in a side-by-side comparison than the original RCA issue. Using two CD players and switching the discs every song from one player to the other, I kept going back and forth between recordings making instant comparisons. Results: The gold disc was tighter, better focused in every song; the gold disc had a firmer bass line; the gold disc was cleaner; and the gold disc was smoother overall. The differences were most noticeable in the opening track, where in the RCA disc Sting and his accompaniment sounded almost out-of-phase by comparison. Also, in O'Connor's singing where high notes are prevalent, I could hear the difference in clarity and smoothness.
Is the extra money worth the incrementally small improvements? Not my job to say; only to report. But I liked what I heard.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: