By Michael Henningsen
There are few bands that can truly be called “unforgettable”—musicians who bring to the stage a collective sound that's magically timeless, whose music sets in motion a chain of events that resonates in the lives of listeners thereafter into infinity. In Celtic circles, Lúnasa are unmatched when it comes to delivering vibrant traditional music folded into contemporary awareness. Their respect for the music's rich history in concert with their virtuosic technical and arranging skill make listening to them more than mildly remarkable.
Made up of former Waterboys bassist Trevor Hutchinson, flutist Kevin Crawford, guitarist Donogh Hennessey, fiddler Sean Smyth and uilleann piper Cillian Vallely, the Irish quintet have received rave reviews during their short time touring the United States. Lúnasa, which in Gaelic refers to the month of August and, more specifically, the pagan festival of the harvest, offer a truly singular musical experience.
While the band's music certainly resonates in the traditional Celtic form, there's also a very definite contemporary element in the arrangements. Crawford says a lot of effort goes into redefining some of the traditional aspects, but that many of the melodies they choose are rooted in tradition.
Generally there's what they call a “well” of traditional tunes in Ireland that you can draw from—lots of beautiful melodies—“but we are also very conscious of wanting to make them our own and to explore not just the melody line, but also the underlying rhythm and pulse that's in them,” Crawford says. “That's where the accompaniment generally takes root. Trevor and Donogh have an amazing sound and approach to getting the best out of a melody without damaging it or superimposing anything strange. It's just very natural and also really different.”
Anyone who attends a Lúnasa concert is likely to come away with a different perspective on the traditional music of a culture they may not belong to. But, according to Crawford, the real key is to come away feeling refreshed and enlivened. “We like to take the audience on a sort of musical jaunt through all the varying sounds and energy. There's also lots of emotional things to be taken as well, from Celtic music in general, and that's what we hope to convey at the concerts.”
Lúnasa perform Monday, Oct. 11, at Santa Fe's Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 West San Francisco, 505-988-1234) at 8 p.m. and Tuesday, Oct. 12, at the Lobo Theater at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the Albuquerque performance are $20 advance (available at Book Stop and Bound To Be Read), $25 at the door.
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