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Lunasa The Merry Sisters of Fate
Green Linnet (

cd cover The combination is not that rare, but the sound is. The basic lineup of Lunasa features pipes, flute, whistle, fiddle, guitar and bass. A handful of guest players add a little piano here, a bit of clarinet there, a touch of percussion, some steel guitar and even a taste of harmonium. Nothing outrageous. But when these instruments are played by musicians of the caliber found in Lunasa, something magical begins to happen. Tunes may be familiar, rhythms may be typical, but this band go one step further.

First of all, the quality of playing is exceptional. On the surface, the band seems to be led by Cillian Vallely on pipes, whistles and Kevin Crawford on flute and whistle, with Sean Smyth (fiddle and whistle) adding beautiful textures, often just behind the wind and reeds. But the more you listen, the more Donogh Hennessy (guitar and whistle) and Trevor Hutchison (double bass) come into the equation.

Hutchison works as an impeccable anchor, constantly providing a strong frame for the band to build up its labyrinth of sounds. He is particularly effective with his long, drawn bowing technique, creating a feeling not only of depth but also of warmth; no sign of muddiness at all.

Meanwhile, Hennessy has taken half a step into the realms of rock. There are glimpses of another world with his at times repetitive, at times contrapuntal acoustic work. Much of the drive is generated by his astounding sense of rhythm. David Odlum (guitar) and Ed Deane (lap steel) complement his playing here and there with their own contrasting styles, while Dave Hingerty provides seasoning with a touch of unobtrusive percussion.

That is the bed on which the melodies lie. Kevin Crawford is regarded by many as one of the finest flute and whistle players in Irish music. He has a warmth and fluidity that brings out the soul of the tunes. Cillian is a perfect partner for Crawford. He plays the tunes, seeming to find new expression in every phrase, every note. And all the while, Smyth is on hand, providing contrast, power and depth.

Lunasa chose material with care; every tune is one that sticks in your mind. The arrangements draw out the best in the characteristics of the instruments, while allowing individuals to step forward and combinations to ebb and flow. Everything is uncluttered yet busy and purposeful. The production is close to perfection - listen to the whole sound, or hone in one particular instrument, the choice is yours. Even the final fade promises much; you know they're heading into the future, not obscurity.

Otherworld, their last release, certainly brought Lunasa a lot of attention and appeared a hard recording to follow. Everything about The Merry Sisters of Fate, from its content to its title, shows that not only have they produced a worthy successor, they have also moved a step or two forward. - Jamie O'Brien

(c)2001 Green Linnet, used by permission

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