The Irish Times

Whelan’s, Dublin – 13/14 November 2002

Pushing the outside of the envelope and changing its measure completely are two entirely different propositions. Lúnasa may have been tiptoeing around the periphery of the tradition for some time, but now they’ve stretched and bent it so far that they’ve catapulted both themselves and the music onto another plane where creative juices (and not precious entanglements with the past) reign supreme.

A trio of flute and whistles, courtesy of Kevin Crawford, Cillian Vallely and Sean Smyth, mark Lúnasa apart. Marry fiddle, pipes, guitar and double bass to the mix and what you’ve got is a music that’s all soul, (without a trace of any blemishes of trad’s original sins).

With their long-anticipated new album, Redwood, chomping at the bit to be released from the traps, the boys couldn’t resist a comprehensive airing of a swathe of tunes from the new collection. Crawford, formidable bodhrán as well as flute and whistle player, afforded every set and tune the best of introductions, his easy affability the envy of the most mannered graduates of a Swiss finishing school.

Flute and low whistles conjoined seamlessly, and then launched headlong into a refreshing reading of Kevin Burke’s Tuttle’s Reel and Spoil The Dance (borrowed from Matt Molloy), Lúnasa proved why so many had braved the flood and pestilence of a Thursday night in Dublin to hear and see them weave their intricate skeins of magic.

Sean Smyth’s fiddle and Donagh Hennessy’s guitar have reached a newfound compatability too; Smyth’s earthy tones finding the perfect foil in Hennessy’s balletic fingerwork.

Trevor Hutchinson’s double bass may be steadily disappearing (in size, if not in stature and sound), but his complex rhythms are the foundation that roots Lúnasa on solid ground.

The tunes came fast and furious. The transitions between tunes whispered of a collective sense of humour and of an adventurous spirit that would be the envy of many musicians too in thrall of their own reputations to let loose on the music.

Cillian Vallely’s solo run on An Buachaill Chaill Dubh was a timely celebration of this magnificent musician who’s always carried his talent lightly.

Lúnasa bring it all up and let it all down with an appetite for grace and danger that Van Morrison once held so dear.

This was a gig that set them apart from the posse, in a venue ideally suited to their mood and personality. An unforgettable set that they would be well advised to repeat at the earliest opportunity.

Siobhán Long
© The Irish Times