The Chieftains: The Long Black Veil (Ultradisc review)

The Chieftains and various guests. Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc II UDCD 762.

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

The Chieftains
Now, is it worth paying out the extra money for Mobile Fidelity's gold treatment? Well, is anything worth the money if it's only a little bit better? Things audiophile, be they software or hardware, are a matter of very personal taste, and the fact is, most people can't tell the difference, anyway. So, probably 99% of all the people in the world with stereo systems wouldn't notice anything better or worse about this Mo-Fi remastering any more than they would notice a difference in a JVC XRCD or FIM UHD remastering. Mo-Fi gold discs, like anything audiophile, are for a very discerning (and, one hopes, well-heeled) listener with a reasonably high-quality audio system to appreciate,

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:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa