Shh . . . don't tell the Irish, but they're early. St. Patrick's Day is more than a week away, but judging by the recent flood of Irish bands that have played town (the Irish Rovers, the Frames, the Prodigals), you'd think we had corned beef and cabbage in the oven and green beer flowing from the tap right this minute.
Two more groups, both from Ireland and both well versed in the Celtic folk-pop thing, wash ashore this week. It's sort of a battle of the Irish bands, the old versus the new, with bodhrans and tin whistles substituting for fists and sharp weapons.
In the orange corner are traditional old-schoolers the Chieftains, who will celebrate their 40th anniversary next year; in the green corner are the relatively young turks the Saw Doctors, together for 15 years. Despite the age difference, though, they have a lot in common.
The Guinness Connection: The Chieftains played the stout maker's Fleadh music festival several times; the Saw Doctors' song "Never Mind the Strangers" was used in a Guinness radio ad to promote its Harp lager.
Big Feats: Numerous Grammy and Academy Award nominations and wins are sprinkled throughout the Chieftains' career; the Doctors have placed several songs in the U.K. Top 10, and their second release, "I Useta Love Her," remains the best-selling single in Irish history.
A Little Help From Their Friends: While the Chieftains' rep in the States has steadily grown over the years, it's their 1988 collaboration with Van Morrison, Irish Heartbeat, that stands out. The Saw Doctors got their big break when the Waterboys took them on tour that same year.
Cool Names: The Chieftains have a Paddy, a Peadar, two Seáns, and one Derek. The Saw Doctors boast a Pearse and a Derek of their own.
Courting McCourt: The cover of the Saw Doctors' third album, Same Oul Town, features a black-and-white photo of a sad-eyed boy peering from a doorway; the paperback edition of author Frank McCourt's 1996 memoir Angela's Ashes sports a similar cover. Ashes and its sequel, 'Tis, are all about sin and redemption; the title tune of the Chieftains' The Long Black Veil explores the same themes.
Rocking Cheers: The Saw Doctors made an album titled If This Is Rock and Roll, I Want My Old Job Back in the '90s; the Chieftains collaborated with rockers Jackson Browne, Sting, Mick Jagger, Sinéad O'Connor, and Bonnie Raitt in the '90s.
Kiss Them, They're Irish: Tongue-twisting songs in the Chieftains' catalog include "Se Fath Mo Bhuartha," "Dans Mod Koh a Vaod," "Táimse 'im Chodladh," and "A Stor Mo Chroi." The Saw Doctors display some homeland pride (albeit in English) with "Green and Red of Mayo," "Galway and Mayo," "Macnas Parade," and "Irish Post."