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78 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2004
As funny man Jack Black once said in "High Fidelity", "It's ridiculous if you don't own this album." ....and that goes double for those who are fans of Van Morrison or Celtic music. "Irish Heartbeat" was a landmark album because it was the first attempt by Celtic traditionalists, The Chieftains, to collaborate with well known popular music singers. Contrary to the complaints of a few "critics", (aye, me friends, they are likely to be agents of the Royal Ulster Constabulary), Paddy and his lads from Dublin do some of their most inspired playing behind Van's soulful crooning. It is a snapshot of Van Morrison riding the crest of his longest wave of artistic success. Arguably the five year period between 1985 and 1990 was the most sustained upward arc of the long and frequently mercurial career of Morrison. The line-up of the Chieftains is also their most musically accomplished grouping in their long 40 plus year history. The six man Chieftain unit on "Irish Heartbeat" played together longer than all other editions of the group combined.
When I first purchased "Irish Heartbeat" in 1988, I confess I did so with a great deal of trepidation. I've never been a fan of collaborative albums by "superstar" musicians. Frequently these albums bring out the worst performance impulses of the musicians. Too often these collaborations becomes a game of musical brinkmanship where musicians play against each other for dominance; or even worse, in an attempt to accommodate each other, musicians play from a banal template, rather than risk being branded a "solo hog" or a "glory hound". I had seen both the Chieftains and Van Morrison live and had nightmarish visions of Van dropping to the floor and lurching into one of his signature stream of consciousness "soul raps" with the clueless Chieftains trying to "get funky with the rhythm." Of course, it didn't work out that way because the collaboration between Van and the Chieftains turned out to be one of those rare matches improved the performance of all the musicians. As it turned out Morrison had considerable depth in his in his renderings of these Celtic standards, but the real surprise is how readily the Chieftains can push Van into some of the most impassioned vocals he's ever done.
Almost every song on "Irish Heartbeat" is a traditional Celtic songs but Morrison's unique treatment of them, make them sound as if he wrote them. Moloney and Morrison, as co-producers, made the right decision to showcase Van's vocals, but the Chieftains sound so comfortable with Morrison's idiosyncratic vocals, it's as if they had been backing him for years. The flute and pipes with the intertwining of stings are sparse enough to give adequate space for Morrison's voice to wander. Morrison is not a traditional "pure" Irish tenor, but he brings his considerable skill at interpreting American rhythm and blues to great effect. Though the music stays traditional, Morrison's unorthodox vocals breathes a fresh perspective into the familiar classics. High points include Van's wickedly hedonistic interpretation of "Marie's Wedding" over the irresistible pulse of Kevin Conneff's Bodhran drum. The "Star of County Down" a frequent set list song for the Chieftains never dazzled as much as on "Irish Heartbeat." The real revelation is the old Irish drinking song "Carrickfergus". This ballad of the tribulations of the drinking class is sung with such searing melancholy by Morrison that it will bring a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat. Morrison's plaintive yet passionate rendition of "Carrickfergus" is the high point of an album that is the benchmark by which great accomplishments in both pop and folk music should be measured.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 1999
This CD was my introduction to the Chieftains and to Celtic music. I had enjoyed listening to Van Morrison since the '60's but had grown tired of his music. When a friend introduced me to Irish Heartbeat I was totally enthralled by the rich folky tunes. It became my favorite CD and stayed as such for more than a year. When my daughter was born in 1990, I often sang her my favorite songs from this exquisite collection, "Star of the County Down" or "Marie's Wedding". She just turned 9 years old and she still requests them from time to time. It is the best of all The Chieftain CD's I have heard (over 10 in all). if you like The Chieftains, Van Morrison, World Music or Celtic Music... or if you want to hear something a hundred times better than your "Riverdance" CD, there is no better place to start than "Irish Heartbeat".
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 1999
There is some absolutely gorgeous stuff on this album, and it's the kind of music you can listen to over and over again. The Chieftains are virtuoso musicians; by far the best at creating that haunting Celtic sound. And what I really like about this album in particular is that you can tell within two bars whether each song is a traditional Irish melody or a Van Morrison original. His songs have that definite sound that's unmistakable, whether being covered by Rod Stewart or Phoebe Snow. He's one of the greats, and so is this album.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2004
I bought this album when it came out in 1988. I think I had it on cassette. I remember working at a park in Northern California that summer and listening to this wonderful album over and over again. I loved it then and I love it now. In fact, I love it even more since my wife and I returned from a trip to Ireland earlier this year, having immersed ourselves in Irish music for a solid week.

I've always loved the traditional Irish music, not only for the melodies but also for the rich sense of history and community the lyrics convey. However, what makes this album stand out is Van Morrison. He is an incredible singer who knows these songs and their history in vivid detail. That he collaborates with the best group of traditional musicians in Ireland means that he can transform these famous songs into something enchanting, memorable: as good as any album you're likely to hear this year (or any year).
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2001
The gritty tenor of the Great One, combined with the mellifluous genteel instrumentation of the saintly Chieftains, presents an ethnic alchemy of timeless proportions. I simply cannot tire of this music.
The traditions, history, and natural beauty of Eire is certainly sufficient to lure tourism. But nothing viscerally CAPTURES Ireland the way this music does. The smell of peat and the flavor of stout emanates from this record. Which serves well the restless soul.
Every so often something comes along works so well that you wonder why it wasn't tried before (or since). Best to savor that rare moment in show business when art is created.
"Irish Heartbeat" will warm your heart the way it does when your daughter wears her Easter bonnet in the sunshine. "County Down" will beckon you to the nearest pub. And "Carrickfergus" will make a grown man cry. The ethereal "Lagan Love" will make you go to church. The various jigs will make you understand why the Irish are found the world over.
Salute, gentlemen. Long may you run.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 1999
I've grown up listening to Celtic music and I've never heard a more heartbreaking rendition of "Carrickfergus" than the one performed by Van Morrison and the Chieftains on this CD. It was reccommended to me for that one song.
After listening to it, I was delighted with the entire content. I bought the CD only six moths ago and I believe I'll soon need a new one for I think I've worn this one out. It's a must for Celtic music lovers and Van Morrison fans as well.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Van Morrison singing with the Chieftains is a match made in heaven. Songs like "Raglan Road" give Morrison and the Chieftains a chance to elevate the popular song to true art. Fine poetry and popular music seldom come together as well as they do here. While "Raglan Road" is my favorite cut on the CD, I enjoyed every song and found myself playing this album again and again. I have given it as a present to many friends. You don't have to be a fan of Irish music to love this CD; it rises to the level of world class musical entertainment.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 31, 2000
This was a truly inspired idea, putting together Van the Man with Ireland's most famous musicians. If it were possible to give it more than 5 stars, I would. Some of it is Morrison in his sunniest mood, and it's impossible not to get up and dance on some of these tunes. On the other hand "Celtic Ray" will make you deeply thoughtful about the blessings of family and tribe, and "Carrickfergus" and "She Moved Through the Fair" will send chills down your spine. This is music you must have.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2001
I love this CD! It's so uncommon to find Celtic music performed with the power and passion of Van Morrison's great baritone voice. He brings a pace and rhythm to classics like "Raglan Road" and "Celtic Ray" that pays homage to their origins but stamps them indelibly, Van Morrison. He adds an incredible presence to the Chieftans fine instrumentals. It is unequivocal, unabashed, fearless in it's exploration, and good for at least a few goose-bumps.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 1998
The Chieftains' recordings with pop artists have been only intermittently successful, but this album is the exception. Morrison owes a greater debt to traditional, unaccompanied "sean-nos" Irish singing than is often realized. Most of these tunes show off his skills well, from the chipper "Star of the County Down" (which is usually given a far too sentimental performance) to the passionate "She Moved Through the Fair" and "My Lagan Love," and what is surely the definitive version of "Carrickfergus." His own "Irish Heartbeat" and "Celtic Ray" are given spirited performances as well. "I'll Tell Me Ma" and "Marie's Wedding" don't particularly suit his style (the latter is too self-consciously cute), but his performances are tongue-in-cheek enough to make them palatable. Overall, a good show.
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