Lunasa - Redwood
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cd cover Midway through the 1990s, a handful of musicians hit on a different approach to playing traditional Irish music. Sean Smyth (fiddle), Trevor Hutchison (bass) and Donogh Hennessy (guitar) along with John McSherry (pipes, whistle) and John McGoldrick (flute, whistle), knowingly or otherwise, produced a new sound incorporating weaving melody lines set on a progressive approach to accompaniment.

Though distinctly Irish in nature, this band had much in common with modern bluegrass/newgrass innovators like Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush and others. Irish music has the tunes, it has the instruments; all it required was the musicians to take it into new realms, which is exactly what this quintet did, initiating a new trend for others to follow.

Flute and whistle player Kevin Crawford and Cillian Vallely (pipes, whistle) have taken McGoldrick and McSherry's places. Comfortably sitting alongside Smyth, flute, pipes, whistles and fiddle intricately switch lead, harmony and rhythm, creating an intriguing, absorbing web of sound. Hennessy seeks out new chord progressions, pushing tunes into a higher gear, adding an accompaniment worth listening to in its own right; yet he is also able to provide an appropriate sensitive finger-picked guitar when required. Hutchison, long regarded as a major accompanist in Irish circles, is close to perfection with his double bass playing. With Lunasa's distinctive approach, old tunes take on a new lease of life while new tunes appear as old as the hills.

Even on a rhythmic set, such as the opening "Cregg's Pipes," the interplay between the three lead instruments as they weave in and out of the melody, brings out tuneful qualities which are not immediately apparent. "Two-Fifty to Vigo," written by Angus R. Grant, in some ways is the opposite. This gentle, entrancing slow reel featuring melody instruments playing in unison, leaves you breathless. Speed is not everything - understanding the tune is!

With this understanding, the musicians are able to develop the essence of the tunes as they explore the intricacies of the rhythm. Similarly, they appreciate the dynamics of the instruments, the effects particular pairings can have, and then place them into new contexts.

The flitting of the flute, the dance of the fiddle, the flow of the pipes, the strong guitar and bass: Lunasa's lineup is not unique, but their playing is. The quintet possesses a magic rarely found in others. Perhaps the best compliment is that they do not need a vocalist - an evening and an album of instrumental music by Lunasa is time well spent. - Jamie O'Brien

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