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Chieftains take a new trip down the "Old Plank Road"

By Rick Bell, October 2002

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Yet, Patty Griffin, who penned both "Truth No. 2" and "Top of the World" on the Dixie Chicks' new album "Home," may have stolen the entire album with her wonderfully sad and mournful "Whole Heap of Little Horses."

The songs Moloney wanted for the project seemed to be as endless as the artists who showed up to record them.

Moloney says his grandmother used to sing "The Girl Left Behind," which was recorded by John Prine for the project. However, that song will have to wait until Part II of the Nashville sessions is released - tentatively sometime next year, Moloney says.

Among the singers slated to appear on the next volume, Moloney says, are Joe Ely, Allison Moorer and Patty Loveless as well as John Hiatt, who performs on one verse of the title cut of this year's release.

"I had a list of people and songs," Moloney says. "Wouldn't this one be lovely for Martina (McBride) to sing? Wouldn't this one be right for Patty? I put out feelers and discussed it with (associate producer) Steve Buckingham. I ended up with this huge list of people - two albums' worth!"

Getting Lyle Lovett into the studio proved to be a challenge, Moloney says.

Lovett was still recovering from the injuries suffered after playing bullfighter to a bull that nearly trampled his uncle on a ranch in Texas.

Lovett literally was wheeled into an Austin studio in a special chair during one of Moloney's rare days off during the sessions.

Moloney flew to Austin, bringing along Jeff White, bassist Viktor Krauss and cellist John Hagen.

"We put down 'Don't Let Your Deal Go Down' and afterward he said, 'We've got to eat something.'" Moloney recalls. They wound up at a hole-in-the-wall rib joint and had a feast.

"What a nice fellow he is. Lyle was in a special chair with his leg up, had 28 breaks in his leg with all these pins stuck in, yet he still did the song."

Much like Lovett, Moloney characterizes McBride as a true artist. She performs the 1800s waltz, "I'll Be All Smiles Tonight." "I'd seen some of her work before. She has such a great command of her voice," Moloney says. Once again, McBride's tune brought back memories of old times.

"I was going down a different 'plank road,'" he laughs. "The song brought back such memories of house dances. It would be six or seven in the morning, and they'd play a round of waltzes. They'd play songs like 'Tonight Is Our Last Night Together' or 'Tennessee Waltz.' There'd be four or five of them, then everyone would go back to school or work. Martina's song had that lovely feeling. It goes back into her history too. There's a bluegrass connection."

That link - at least in terms of country meeting Irish music for Moloney - harkens back nearly 30 years. In 1974, a young, relatively unknown angelic-voiced Emmylou Harris brought her Hot Band to Dublin.

Perhaps best-known at the time as the late Gram Parsons' female vocal counterpart more than for a burgeoning solo career as country's new traditionalist, Harris nonetheless left an impression on Moloney.

"I was there that night," he recalled. "She said she was a big fan of The Chieftains. And Ricky (Skaggs) was in the band."

Moloney has maintained a close relationship with Harris and with Skaggs, who will also appear on the next "Nashville Sessions" record.

"I got my work out of Ricky," Moloney says. "He's helped me out so much I can't thank him enough."

Skaggs' efforts typify the respect not only for The Chieftains, but for the ties between Nashville and Dublin. While not looking past what's already in front of him, Moloney nonetheless is hoping to land three more tracks before releasing the next record.

"I want to get Nickel Creek," Moloney admits, not hiding his admiration for their blending of so many different genres. "They've just gone through the roof. And my dear friends The Dixie Chicks. I have a smashing song for them to do. They're already number one on the British charts, but I never say die."

"And Doc Watson is the other person I want to get."

The working title so far is "Plank Road II," Moloney says. But then, "Shady Grove," was almost the name of the first album.

"'Plank' has a whole live feel to it; there's a great hominess attached to it," Moloney says.

The Chieftains will tour to support the record for about three months beginning in January, he said. They should be well prepared by then, starting with the gigs in Nashville.

"We have to learn 16 new tunes," Moloney says. "This should be interesting."

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