POP MUSIC REVIEW : Cooder, Nunez Add Dimension to Chieftains’ Cerritos Show

Like Zelig, the Chieftains seem inexorably drawn to the company of the famous. But, unlike Woody Allen’s chameleon-like hero, who had no identity of his own, the Chieftains don’t enlist the services of prominent performers out of a desperate need to fill in a blank slate. Their identity as leading exponents of traditional Irish music is unshakable, and their musical personality after 32 years as a band is strong.

The stars tend to meet bandleader Paddy Moloney and company on their own distinctively Celtic turf. As Ry Cooder, the designated famous guest companion for Wednesday’s concert at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts put it, “You do what Paddy says. That’s all there is to it. He says come down, I come down.”

Cooder’s rendition of the wistful, wafting “Coast of Malabar,” a Caribbean-flavored song he sings on the Chieftains’ recent, star-studded album “The Long Black Veil,” added one more dimension to an attractive, multihued evening. Another impressive guest was Carlos Nunez, who plays the traditional music of the Celtic-influenced Spanish region of Galicia. If it’s possible to become a pop star playing bagpipes and recorder, this handsome, kinetic 22-year-old could be the man.

Left to their own devices for most of the show, the six Chieftains worked their usual variety of angles with customary aplomb, from touching lyricism to rollicking gusto, with a strong current of humor running throughout.