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Image Entertainment presents
The Chieftains: Live Over Ireland: Water From The Well (1998)

"I'd known for a long time that various cosmic forces were encouraging strongly nationalistic people to send their music to different countries, because the theory was that if different nations could understand each others' music, it was a very high ladder to understanding the people."
- Derek Bell

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: December 20, 2000

Stars: Paddy Molony, Derek Bell, Matt Malloy, Kevin Conneff, Martin Fay, Sean Keane
Other Stars: Ashley MacIsaac, Van Morrison, Steve Cooney, Los Lobos
Director: Maurice Linnane

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:27m:12s
Release Date: February 27, 2001
UPC: 014381026528
Genre: celtic

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AA-A- C+

DVD Review

If a nation is defined by its people and culture, The Chieftains have been proprietors of Ireland's musical history for nearly 40 years. In the 1930s and early 1940s, there was a great fear that much of the country's musical heritage would be lost, as the older generation passed on. It brought about a revival of interest in folk music from younger musicians, and in the 1960s, there was a further resurgence with the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and The Clancy Brothers. If one is looking for an example of traditional and authentic Celtic music, they need look no farther than The Chieftains, helmed since its inception by piper Paddy Molony. This group of gentlemen, most in or nearing their 70s, still maintains a rigorous touring schedule. Under Paddy's direction, they find themselves working with numerous other artists whose work has diversified their traditional roots, and incorporated a more modern approach to their music. For this recording, the band felt it important to return to their individual sources of inspiration, the places they grew up and where their love of music was born; thus, we have a tour of Ireland through the eyes of one of the country's most enduring diplomats. Here, The Chieftains return to draw "water from the well," as the band records its 1999 CD of traditional Irish music, accompanied by some of the nation's foremost musicians.

Set against scenic aerial views of the Irish countryside and towns, this musical documentary takes us first to the home of Paddy Molony's grandparents in County Laois, now abandoned and run down in the middle of a vast landscape. Here Paddy recounts his memories of childhood, where the house parties would bring neighbors in from miles around to sing and dance in this tiny building 'til the wee hours of morning. He also performs a solo tin whistle rendition of an old folk song from his past on the grounds outside the house. We next move to Kevin Conneff (bodrán and vocals) for an accapella rendition of The May Morning Dew, performed in an old church in Wicklow. As we visit each of The Chieftains in turn, we get not only a glimpse at their personalities through interview footage, but as each new session is seen, we get an intimate feel for the origins of this group's music, be it in county halls, the local tavern and so on. Along the way the group is joined by numerous fellow musicians, some of the more famous including Ashley MacIsaac, Van Morrison, Steve Cooney and Los Lobos. Each encounter features the group assembled and performing live, and the influence of their surroundings adds great character to the experience. Whether huddled together over pints of Guinness with a group of guest fiddlers in flautist Matt Molloy's pub, or accompanied by the Belfast Harp Orchestra at Kilmore House in Glenariffe, the spirit of their ancestry is brought alive through the music.

As a musician, there are many things about The Chieftains that I find interesting. While traditional music would not be one of my favorite styles, their use of authentic instruments is fascinating. From Paddy Molony's tin whistle and uilleann pipes, to Kevin Conneff's bodrán, Derek Bell's harps, harpsichords and tiompán (hammered dulcimer), and of course, the fiddles of Martin Fay and Sean Keáne and the flute of Matt Malloy. The live performances showcase these and other instruments in the various local settings visited in the documentary. Even more interesting are the interview clips with these gentlemen, who despite their expertise and experience in their field, are still fueled by a passion for the music, and the continual learning that takes place as a musician. Each member gives their view of The Chieftains and what it means to the music. Paddy Molony's recollections cite the concept behind this group of sessions, and its historical relevance. Kevin Conneff discusses his background and inspirations at fireside, while Derek Bell is particularly enchanting in his discussion of his continued education, including tales of taking lessons from his 90-year-old harp instructor—any musician can gain a great deal from this man's wisdom and outlook on life. The insights from each member of the band paint an image that demonstrates why this group has survived so long and are still going strong. Despite their differences in personality, the music is glue that keeps these guardians of Irish traditions excited about their work, and this disc is a worthwhile investment to meet the people, and places behind it all.

"Somebody once said, 'If you focus on the local, you can reach the universal'... and maybe that's what The Chieftains have done." - Matt Malloy

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film's 1.78:1 anamorphic image is near flawless other than some visible compression artifacts. The exterior location recordings are vivid in color, with the lush greens of the countryside or the bright yellows, blues and reds of town shops beautifully rendered. Many of the performance sequences seem a bit dark, though the lighting suggests this is intentional for dramatic effect. A bit of over sharpening adds some unnatural edginess to the image, but overall this looks wonderful, an is by far the best looking disc The Chieftains have released to date.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Unlike some of their other recordings which have a very artificial sound to the 5.1 track, this one, for the most part, is very natural and simply adds ambience to whatever the visual is presenting. The session recordings are fairly well mixed, though I was disappointed on occasion due to instruments not being as present as I expected. These are all live performances, and as such do have some ambient noises, which are true to their character. Like the video, this is the best I've seen from The Chieftains so far in terms of quality.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Music/Song Access with 0 cues and remote access
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Paddy Moloney
Packaging: Snapper
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: For the first of the extras, a rarity on other Chieftains DVDs, we get a seven-minute promo clip for the Santiago album, where Paddy discusses the influences that inspired the sessions. This is paired with an outtake from the Water from the Well sessions, with a performance of The Rocky Road To Dublin.

In addition, Paddy Molony adds descriptive narration of the musical pieces and players under the main feature presentation on the alternate audio track. The interview segments play as usual, with commentary during only the musical performances.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

This is easily the best presentation of The Chieftains available on DVD so far. Aside from a recommendation to anyone interested in traditional Irish music, I would also enthusiastically recommend this disc for musicians of all genres as a look at a group who has managed to survive for decades longer than most, and who still have the fire in their blood for the music they create. The scenery is wonderful, as is the atmosphere at each stop along the way. The Chieftains: Water From The Well is a most welcome addition to any musical DVD library.


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