Girl power! isn't exactly a new thing. Sisters were doing it for themselves long before the Spice Girls were just a dollar sign in a record company executive's eye. But you might not expect to find it infusing an album by the Chieftains, the bunch of Irish reelers and jiggers long acclaimed for their interpretations of classic Celtic tunes . . . acclaimed for so long, in fact, that it was way back in 1964, on the release of their first album, that the plaudits began to arrive at the Chieftains' door. It's girl power of a sort, at least, on their new record. The vision, as usual, of founder member Paddy Moloney, it features what the PR people concerned fairly describe as a 'stellar line-up' of female artists. This includes Joni Mitchell, Sinead O'Connor, Joan Osborne, Mary Chapin-Carpenter and Bonnie Raitt, each accompanying the Chieftains on their individual tracks. But don't expect any power-politics or feminist breast-beating: it's the power of love they're singing about. The celebrated guests on Tears Of Stone give form to Moloney's dream - three years in the realisation - of exploring the pleasure, pain, joy and remorse of the most sublime emotion. That it took so long to bring to the turntable was a result of his insistence on using the biggest and best artists from assorted genres, which obliged him to become a schedule-juggler extraordinaire and itinerant producer for the period of its gestation, recording his collaborators' contributions in Los Angeles, London, Dublin, New York and Washington. Speaking from Tokyo, on his similarly far-flung press and promotional tour, chief Chieftain Moloney recalled a chapter or two of the epic tale behind his creation, and told of how he sweated and toiled over his baby. 'I was having lunch with Joni Mitchell in Los Angeles at one o'clock one day,' said Moloney. 'At five o'clock we were still there, watching the sun go down; then she took me to her house and even signed one of her paintings for me! 'But no, every one of the 14 tracks was an event - most were logistical nightmares.' Some tracks had to be cut quickly. 'Bonnie Raitt was in Dublin on a Monday,' Moloney said. 'We had a bit of an Irish party - and she had to leave on the Saturday . . . every track has a story!' What Moloney also meant was that every track tells a story. 'We have 400 to 500 years of wonderful songs in the Irish language, and this album is in that tradition. I've been so impressed by the emergence of female performers in the past 10 years that this is how I wanted to do it.' The album's songs may be about love, but they also deal with 'despair, hope, seeing the breadwinner go off to the battlefields of Europe, or support in that fight you're having with your neighbour', he added. Moloney agreed that the tracks were hardly feminist in timbre, but given that they also pack the punch of the Lady Fiddlers, the Corrs and Natalie Merchant, political correctness was never likely to be a thorny issue. As for their execution, Raitt inventively combines slide guitar with the Chieftains' signature sound, Oscar-winning Irish actress Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot ) narrates the W.B. Yeats poem Never Give All The Heart to light the whole emotional touchpaper, and Japan's Akiko Yano puts a spin on the refreshment of choice with Sake In The Jar. Joan Osborne, whom Moloney came across in Dublin, was asked to 'do a song for Paddy', as he put it. Eventually put together in New York, it became 'the most moving recording of Raglan Road. We sang it at the Pavarotti tribute concert before the Grammys,' said Moloney proudly. But there were disappointments. 'The idea was to do a track with Sheryl Crow - always a musician's musician. But she went off with the Rolling Stones, then came back and had to sort her life out for a couple of months. I just couldn't wait any longer. 'Then there was Aretha Franklin, whom I admire so much, and whom I approached at the Pavarotti concert. But it was hopeless trying to get through the wall of managers, agents and record-company people.' Hob-nobbing with the cream of the pop crop has rarely proved so troublesome for the Chieftains. Their reputation established, they pushed the boat out in the late 1960s by daring to go part-time . . . while retaining their managerial or civil-service jobs in Dublin. Feted in the following years by the likes of Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, they were guests on Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn album and played on the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick's 1975 movie Barry Lyndon. Moloney's deft arrangements of Celtic songs was the fulcrum of the band's success, and it ensured music widely considered unfashionable continued to reach salivating admirers in the mainstream music world. The next, and still their most significant, heavyweight collaboration came in 1988, when thet recorded the globally trumpeted album Irish Heartbeat with Van Morrison. This came a mere 24 years after their first album, and for many outfits would have been a fitting full stop at the end of a coruscating career. For the Chieftains, it meant subsequent joint efforts with Rickie Lee Jones, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, Mark Knopfler and Tom Jones, among many others, and enough awards for the albums The Long Black Veil and Santiago to pave Dublin Bay. Just warming up after 35 years in the job, the Chieftains seem unstoppable. They will tour again soon, they're up for two Grammys, and Moloney is putting together a film score with Anjelica Huston. 'I'm doing it down the phone - playing my tin whistle at five in the morning!' he said. Moloney had spoken about Tears Of Stone to the press of the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong. Did he have a final opinion? 'Yes,' said Moloney. 'I'm all talked out.'