Music: Dublin yields to Donal's harmony

Yer man Lunny is back with a cracking album. By Colin Harper
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The Independent Culture
"THANKS VERY much," says Donal Lunny, six numbers into a lean, mean media showcase scene in the heart of Dublin. "This is just like a gig." Lavish launches are 10 a penny in Dublin - indeed, some people base their entire social calendar around them - but this one, at The Odeon, was a bit special.

Lunny has been a major force and influence at the commercial coalface of Irish traditional music since the early Seventies, most visibly as a member of Planxty, The Bothy Band and Moving Hearts - all of which enjoy iconic status in the current Irish music boom. In the past decade he has been more of a producer, a mover and shaker - a prolific backroom presence in an increasingly prolific Irish trad industry.

Common Ground, last year's set by various EMI artists, was essentially a Donal Lunny album-cum-tribute album in all but name, but Coolfin (released on Monday) carries his name unashamedly - the first to do so for 10 years.

For an invited audience peppered with the likes of Christy Moore, Paul Brady and Altan alongside family, friends and legion media folk, Lunny and the seven-piece Coolfin Band delivered a razor-sharp, sensuous performance of 11 choice cuts that sparkled with the virtuosity and controlled energy one would expect. But they also exhibited an infectious enthusiasm for music and for nudging at the boundaries that one shouldn't take for granted - not even with a musician whose long career has been characterised by innovation in his chosen field.

This year's model is an almost clubby, groove-based construction with Balkan tinges, marrying ambient keyboards and light percussion with the sprightly, scatting fiddle sounds of Nollaig Casey and the blistering uilleann pipes of John McSherry - all on a bedrock of heavy bass and drum in odd time signatures. Others have tried similar formulas before, with mixed results - Scotland's Capercaillie not least - but Lunny has it nailed.

Space and rhythm are the thing, with Lunny himself on bouzouki and bass player Ronnie O'Flynn doing a fabulous and tricky job in laying down hypnotic, off-centre accents throughout. Occasionally - with the odd keyboard solo, for example - the whole thing teetered on the brink of Eighties funk, but 95 per cent of the time this was captivating, exhilarating yet deliciously cool music.

"Spanish Point", a mystic, fiddle-led evocation of sea cliffs, recalled the Mahavishnu Orchestra's jazz fusion at its most sensual, while the contributions of guest vocalists Mairead and Triona ni Dohmnail (who also appear on the album) induced that back-of-the-neck tingle a seasoned music writer rarely gets. Mr Lunny, it would appear, is still The Man.