The Chieftains are, quite simply, the most beloved and most popular traditional Irish music performers in modern times. Long before the current fad for All-Things-Celtic, these rogues with brogues have been proving night after night that Irish music is far more than turgid tales of potato famines, drowned lovers or boisterous town alcoholics (though even The Chieftains will probably admit those topics take up a chunk of their repertoire). The Chieftains also have a pop sensibility, and their popularity keeps growing. This month, The Chieftains will also release Tears of Stone, their latest record of more than 30.
Formed in 1962 by Moloney (uilleann pipes) with Martin Fay (fiddle), The Chieftains began their formative years on a decidedly low key in both recording and performing. A willingness to enter the pop world has resulted in musical collaborations with such artists as Sting, Elvis Costello, Sinead O'Connor, the Rolling Stones and Mark Knopfler. All of them appeared on '95's critically acclaimed The Long Black Veil, obviously the band's most commercially successful release. Still, the bulk of their set list is Irish jigs, reels, hornpipe and harp songs. Each executed with impeccable taste, skill and a large dose of good humor. In addition to Moloney and Fay, the lineup (which has remained intact since 1978) includes Sean Keane (fiddle), Derek Bell (harp), Kevin Conneff (bodhran, vocals), and Matt Molloy (flute). Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, but in Houston, that day may come a little earlier.
-- Bob Ruggiero
The Chieftains perform Thursday, March 4, 8 p.m. at the Aerial Theatre, 520 Texas Avenue. Tickets are $21.50, $30 and $35. For info, call (713)629-3700.
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Brian McKnight and Monica -- Well, it's that time of year again, kids. It's time when the fine folks of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo stop the hog-tying, two-stepping or whatever the hell else they do and throw Houston R&B audiences a bone. You may remember they've given us such soul doozies over the years as Kool & The Gang, Stephanie Mills, Kool & The Gang, Luther Vandross and, hey, let's not forget Kool & The Gang. Now, you can add cool crooner Brian McKnight and new-jack nymphet Monica to the list. Ever since the release and immediate success of his last album Anytime, singer/songwriter/producer McKnight has reinvented himself as a guy who can sing a sweet love song to the ladies and still have time left over to kick it with the fellas. Despite his rather asthmatic approach to singing, McKnight is one of the few black-music troubadours who invokes some form of competence and honest, heartfelt logic in the R&B fold. Now Monica. She's the one to keep a close eye on. While Brandy, another young black female performer, presents an image of untarnished wholesomeness, you get the feeling Monica might deck someone if she doesn't get her way. But it's that spark of ghettofied spunk that provides an accessible alternative to Brandy's suburban sorrow. Let's hope she keeps that spark flickering. Brian McKnight and Monica perform as a part of Black Heritage Day at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at the Astrodome, Saturday, February 27. Show starts at 11 a.m. Tickets are $12. For info, call (713)629-3700. (Craig D. Lindsey)