Headlining at this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival, the leading pan-Irish ensemble Danú is now releasing its seventh album (eighth if you count Up In The Air), following hot on the heels of a brace of seriously landmark live gigs: first at this year’s Celtic Connections, and second and most recently in Dublin where they celebrated two decades of straight-down-the-line high-energy music-making. Buan is well named, for the word translates variously as permanent, fixed or perpetual, although it might arguably seem something of a back-handed compliment to praise the album for its more-of-the-same nature, a phrase which should after all be interpreted entirely positively, in reflecting the sheer constancy of the band’s musicianship and the enduring, lasting quality of its recorded output, right in line with its brilliant live shows. But as always, there’s so much more to it than that… Like the consistency of the Danú sound – the lineup’s now settled nicely at Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh (vocals, flute, whistles), Benny McCarthy (button accordion), Oisín McAuley (fiddle), Éamon Doorley (guitar-bouzouki) and Dónal Clancy (guitar, vocals).
As is invariably the case with Danú albums, Buan is most cleverly sequenced so as to avoid any chance of boredom setting in for the listener. Here, tune-sets and songs are heard to engage in fair-minded battle: at first politely alternating, sure, but with the songs eventually winning out (just!) in terms of proportional representation. And what a wonderfully varied selection of songs too, mostly quite little-known, starting with Muireann’s ideally poised accounts of Beir Mo Dhúthracht and the Child ballad Lord Gregory and then giving way to Dónal for a stirring version of Willie Crotty, a brand new and yet totally authentic-sounding outlaw ballad penned by his own cousin Robbie O’Connell. The contrasts continue to be pointed with a lilting pair of light-hearted West Kerry songs and a gently passionate rendition by Muireann of John Spillane’s poignant Passage West; Muireann then closes the disc with The Willow Tree, which comes complete with a beautiful and highly memorable melody and refrain.
Back with the tunes, then; the opening set demonstrates Danú’s consummate and intuitive understanding of quite different regional styles with a medley of slides from Kerry and Donegal, and there’s no shortage of excitement in the musicians’ relaxed virtuosity when the set steps up a gear to build up a real head of steam for the final stretch (Scott’s Favourite). Danú’s musicians are known for breathtaking and nifty playing in all departments, but they’ve considerable sensitivity and a feel for the lyrical too, and one favourite among the purely instrumental tracks has to be the lovely set that pairs a slow waltz with a slow march, gorgeous melodies both, composed by Oisín and Dónal respectively. Having said that, the final set of reels kicks off with a barnstorming performance by master piper Donnchadh Gough, a former member of the band. The other special guests on the album are Éamon’s elder brother Tom (another ex-member of Danú) and, on a healthy majority of the tracks, album producer Dónal Lunny – who should be given a special mention for his contribution in that regard too: clear, crisp and finely balanced, an object lesson indeed.
And finally, by the way, it’s so good in this day and age of woefully short playing-time on so-called full-length CD releases to come across a decently-filled 54-minute disc, and one where every minute counts but which also feels not a minute too long and even leaves the listener wanting more. Buan is in every respect a splendid achievement from a premier Irish band still at the very top of their game.
Review by: David Kidman
Danú & Dónal Lunny:Kerry To Donegal Set-Live at Celtic Connections 2015