Down The Old Plank Road (The Chieftains)

The Chieftains
Down The Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions In Concert
RCA Victor 09026-64022-9

The concert captured on this 2-hour DVD is a beautiful expression of the idea that it’s all just “music”, no bins or labels necessary. Featured here is music from the Big Melting Pot, a rich stew of musical styles and influences, spiced with the constrasts between the traditions of Celtic music played by the Chieftains for over 40 years and the bluegrass music that Bill Monroe created from those same traditions. To make the connection, the Chieftains went to Nashville and sought out some of the very best musicians in the bluegrass and traditional country, resulting in their acclaimed CD Down The Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessionsand culminating with this concert at the Ryman Auditorium.

The Chieftains, ably assisted by Stuart Duncan, Jim Mills, Bryan Sutton, Barry Bales and others, provide the backing on a host of tunes that clearly illustrate how closely bluegrass and Celtic music are related – from the raw-edged Country Blues with Buddy and Julie Miller, to haunting renditions of Molly Bán (familiar to bluegrass audiences as the Dillards’ Polly Vaughn) by Allison Krauss and Lambs on the Green Hills from Emmylou Harris, to Sally Goodin, which Earl Scruggs just flat out nails. At the same time, the Chieftains also put their own distinctive stamp on some more familiar tunes – adding, for example, a fresh instrumental twist in the middle of the Del McCoury Band’s trademark Rain and Snow and making some dandy medleys out of Shady Grove with Tim O’Brien and Jeff White’s rendition of Tennessee Stud. It all succeeds admirably, and the joy and affection the artists have for each other adds to the excitement of the live performance captured on disk here.

Although the DVD doesn’t utilize multiple video angles or audio mixes, the camera work is lovely and the audio quality, especially the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track, is terrific. Despite some audio flubs in the closing ensemble number that render Jerry Douglas’ break almost inaudible (that this was a live show, after all) and an unnecessarily histrionic version of I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight, oversung by mainstream country artist Martina McBride, this is an exciting and rewarding reminder that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

RCA Victor, manufactured and distributed by BMG Distribution, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036-4098
Published in Bluegrass Unlimited, November 2003. Used with permission.