Tim O'Brien and Lúnasa To Play in Chico
02/22/2016 12:15PM ● Published by Phil Reser
By Phil Reser
The Irish acoustic band Lúnasa is touring with Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and instrumentalist Tim O’Brien.
O’Brien’s talent has been strongly felt not only in his own rich roots music, but in the many recordings of his songs by such artists as Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, Dierks Bentley, Nickel Creek, Kathy Mattea, and the New Grass Revival.
Most recently, he’s been performing before capacity crowds in the band of Mark Knopfler, who described O’Brien as “a master of American folk music, Irish music, Scottish music—it doesn’t matter: a fine songwriter and one of my favorite singers.”
During his lifetime relationship with country folk and bluegrass music, he has recognized that the traditional roots of modal Irish ballads and vintage swing play an important part in the music he creates for his listeners.
“It seems artificial to sift anything out because I feel like I’d be leaving out something important that I’ve learned from the history of music.,” he says.
Lúnasa is composed of Kevin Crawford (flutes, low whistles and tin whistles), Trevor Hutchinson (double bass), Ed Boyd (guitar), Sean Smyth (fiddle and low whistle) and Cillian Vallely (uilleann pipes and low whistles).
In addition to Lúnasa, Hutchinson tours off and on with his old band mates, The Waterboys; Vallely has collaborated with Bruce Springsteen; Crawford performs with Martin Hayes and John Doyle as The Teetotalers; Boyd plays with Flook and Cara Dillon; and Smyth spends time in Ireland as a medical practitioner.
Smyth explains that his job as a part-time doctor holds as much fascination for him as his music career. “They both are important. They complement each other,” Smyth says.
In 1997, Lúnasa released its début CD “Lúnasa,” which became an immediate best-seller in Ireland, topping Hot Press’ folk charts and nominated one of the year’s top ten 10 by the Irish Echo in the United States.
Since that time, the band has become one of the most sought-after bands on the international Celtic music scene, winning many awards, including a nomination for Folk Album of the Year in the BBC Radio 2 Awards and Best Traditional Album of 2005 in Irish Music Magazine.
The band’s most recent album saw it collaborate with Ireland’s RTE Concert Orchestra. “That was a great event for us,” Smyth says. “As for the future, there are many, many musical journeys left open to us. For now, we’re going to savor the orchestral theme and look forward to recreating these wonderful arrangements in theaters and with audiences around the world.”
Inspired by Ireland’s great ‘70s group The Bothy Band, Lúnasa uses melodic interweaving of wind and string instruments, pairing flutes, fiddle, whistles and pipes in creative arrangements.
Like the younger generation of Nashville musicians such as Béla Fleck or Edgar Meyer, pushing the boundaries of bluegrass into jazz and beyond, Lúnasa is redefining Irish music by going to the heart of its rhythms.
The result is a sound that, though distinctly Irish in flavor, touches on jazz and other improvisational music forms. “There are lots of great melodies in Irish music, but often people don’t hear the rhythms underneath,” says Smyth.
“We try to relate the swing or energy out of the music, using new rhythms, letting each instrument add its own unique layer. We’ll play the same tune over and over, searching for the groove, exploring it. We let the music find its pulse.”
Lúnasa has sold more than quarter of a million albums and boasts an impressive back catalogue of seven highly acclaimed and award-winning studio albums.
“We like playing for any nationality, race or creed,” says Smyth. “Our audiences don’t need to understand anything about jigs or reels or what they are, but that they can go to our performance and be genuinely touched and that it takes them somewhere spiritually different than what they’re used to.”
Tim O’Brien and Lúnasa
Friday, March 18
Laxson Auditorium/Chico State University