RCA is calling this 39th Chieftains release a "commemorative CD" — which is to say it’s not exactly a retrospective. The oldest of the 19 tracks (running a generous 71 minutes) assembled here dates from the lads’ 1987 trip to Beijing. Mostly The Wide World Over catalogues the Chieftains’ fusion ’90s: Sinéad O’Connor ("The Foggy Dew"), Sting ("Mo ghile mear"), and the Stones ("Rocky Road to Dublin") on The Long Black Veil; Ricky Scaggs ("Cotton-Eyed Joe") on Another Country; Van Morrison ("Shenandoah") on The Long Journey Home; the Corrs ("I Know My Love") and Joni Mitchell ("The Magdalene Laundries") on Tears of Stone. Often the band wind up contributing little more than instrumental color. What earlier material there is has been re-recorded: Seán Ó Riada’s poignant "Mná na h-Éireann" ("Women of Ireland") is less poignant — and much shorter — than it was on The Chieftains 4.
There are three new tracks. "Morning Has Broken" was recorded with Art Garfunkel and Diana Krall on an Antarctic luxury cruise at the turn of the millennium; the easy-listening result won’t cost Cat Stevens any sleep. Kevin Coneff sneaks a sly bit of the Irish children’s song "Maidrín ruadh" (Gaelic for "fox") into "Chasing the Fox," but the gang didn’t need the Cincinnati Pops for this redo of the traditional "Fox Hunt," which is more fun on The Chieftains Live. And they barely register on Bob Marley’s "Redemption Song," where the singing star is "newly signed RCA Victor Group artist Ziggy Marley."
The musicianship is, as always, beyond cavil — but the result is an RCA marketing product all the same. If you’ve been snatching up Chieftains releases over the past decade, you don’t really need this one. If not, start with The Long Black Veil and then look for a copy of Bonaparte’s Retreat.
(The Chieftains will make their annual visit to Symphony Hall this Friday, March 15. Call 617-266-1200.)