Rockin' guests help Chieftains celebrate 50 

“These young bucks, they want to be on the road day and night,” says Paddy Moloney about the newer bands that joined his own Irish traditional band, the Chieftains, to record the new album, “Voice of Ages.”

“But we like to calm things down a little bit,” Moloney says.

You sense a bit of blarney in that claim, if you experience the 73-year-old piper and tin whistle player burning up the phone lines from his American base in Florida, describing the process of recruiting Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, recent Grammy winner for best new artist and best alternative music album.

“He said, ‘Please, please wait till I get home, and I’ll put down the song for ya,’ which he did,” says Moloney, who appears Tuesday with the Chieftains at Davies Symphony Hall, opening SFJAZZ’s 2012 spring season.

“I’d done the arrangement of the song [“Down in the Willow Garden”], and the reason I pitched it to him, the melody comes from a very old Irish ballad called, ‘The Men of the West’ which goes back about 300 years. He did a great job on it, and I finished mixing it in Dublin at 12 midnight, and at 5 that morning I was on an airplane to Los Angeles to do the mastering. So that will tell you how tight it was to get everyone I wanted onto the album. It’s a terrible madness, once it gets hold of you.”

With the advice and assistance of the album’s co-producer, T Bone Burnett, Moloney also got help from double-Grammy winners the Civil Wars, the Decemberists, the Low Anthem, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and a half-dozen other celebrated up-and-comers.

Celebrating “Voice of Ages” — being released today by the Starbucks-sanctioned Hear/Concord label — and the 50th anniversary of their founding, the Chieftains’ San Francisco appearance likely will be a spirited showcase. The show features local Irish stepdancers and tunes from the new album as well as the San Pablo-based Mexican-American band Los Cenzontles, which appeared on a previous Chieftains album, “San Patricio.”

The Dublin-born Moloney’s roots in Celtic music reach, of course, far further than the formation of the group he’s best known for.

“I was 6 years of age when my mother bought me a tin whistle for 1 shilling and 9 pence,” he says. After five decades of exporting Irish traditional music to the rest of the world with the Chieftains, Moloney had the special pleasure of featuring the Castle Rock School Choir from Dalkey, Ireland, with his own grandson Aonghus, on one of the new album’s songs, “School Days Over.”

“It brought tears to my eyes,” he says of the experience. “They were so serious, and it was so beautiful.”

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Jeff Kaliss

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