We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
My prejudice against Irish music was born during my sole visit to the Dubliner in the mid-’80s. In my paisley-print Indian-cotton shirt, I uneasily rubbed elbows with a cadre of Guinness-sucking dress-for-successers with only-on-Capitol Hill job titles (executive research aide, assistant executive researcher, administrative program aide; “But what do you do?” I persisted in vain) and listened, between snarls from a red-haired waitress, to a bunch of louts droning about draining their jugs. Years later, as I became acquainted with the sounds of England, Scotland, and Cape Bretonall regions also plagued by bars where ersatz-Eire crap reignsI found a greater affinity for these cultures’ expressions of roots music than for the occasional high-quality Irish fare that sneaked into my consciousness. Neverthelessand Michael Flatley notwithstandingI’ve recently been able to wrest the “No Irish Need Apply” sign from my aesthetic, thanks mostly to Altan, Susan McKeown, and now Lúnasa, whose all-instrumental The Merry Sisters of Fate is full of traditional tunes and unexpected touches. “Aiobhneas” opens with a riff from guitarist Donogh Hennessy that sounds more like Irish-tinged jazz than jazz-tinged Irish, and although it’s soon chased by unmistakably Hibernian uilleann pipes and whistles, non-Celtic rhythms and influences keep galloping in and out of Sisters, largely courtesy of Hennessy and double-bassist Trevor Hutchinson. Listeners who want the comfort of familiar jiggery are directed to “The Minor Bee,” a set of lively dance tunes hung on the winning combo of Kevin Crawford and Seán Smyth’s flutes and whistles and Cillian Vallely’s pipes. But a merry mix of styles is the norm for most of the album. The closing tune, “Morning Nightcap,” starts with an uilleann-pipe drone, makes a quick glance off “Where the Streets Have No Name,” reels along for a while with a guitar pulse that makes it easy to imagine the club remix, skirts pomp-rock pretension with massed strings, then regrounds itself in fairly straight trad for the fadeout. That fadeout’s the only misstep on Sisters: Irish music, like Irish whiskey, deserves a clean finish. Pamela Murray Winters