Category: Archive

Ceol: Doyle’s second solo CD a big improvement

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

One Doyle fan actually accused me of disliking Bob Dylan’s singing, based solely on my review of Doyle’s singing. I concluded the review this way: “On an album where 10 of the 14 tracks are songs, and nine of those feature Doyle on lead vocal, hot picking can’t overcome chill singing.”
I have not changed my opinion about “Evening Comes Early.” The acoustic guitar playing by Doyle is magnificent on that album. His style of rhythmic-percussive picking establishes him as one of the most exciting and gifted guitarists in the world. But the majority of his vocals on that solo debut still represent chill singing.
In the intervening years I have seen John Doyle perform a number of times, usually with Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll, and my reviews have noted his growing confidence, poise, and effectiveness as a singer and songwriter. (The latter talent was not displayed on “Evening Comes Early,” though his tunesmithing was.) This seasoning and road testing have added warmth and depth to his singing and have made “Wayward Son” (Compass), his second solo CD, the kind of album Doyle’s fans knew he always had in him.
“Jack Dolan,” otherwise known as “The Wild Colonial Boy,” gets a quick-pulse arrangement from Doyle, whose singing conveys the defiance and courage of this Irishman in Australia. The accompaniment is just as brisk and faultless, including Tim O’Brien on harmony vocal and the Nashville Bluegrass Band’s Stuart Duncan on fiddle, who plays tangy fills and counterpoint.
Learned from Nic Jones, “Captain Glenn” is another traditional song given a fine reading and arrangement by Doyle. Lending him expert support are Michael McGoldrick and John McCusker on low whistles, former Solas bandmate John Williams on button accordion, and Alison Brown, in whose band Doyle now often plays, on five-string banjo.
“The Cocks Are Growing” features Doyle on vocal and guitar only, and this spare, simple approach serves the traditional song well. “Little Sadie,” an American old-time song with a noirish narrative about a shooting, reveals Irish nuances in the assured interpretation and arrangement of Doyle, who lives in a prime old-time music area, Asheville, N.C.
But the best-sung song on the album is “Bitter the Parting,” Doyle’s own composition, a haunting, wistfully tart reflection of love and home lost. Yorkshire singer Kate Rusby alternates verses with Doyle, and the two join on some lines together, drawing a soft, subtle tension from the song’s deep well of emotion. The weave of Doyle’s and Rusby’s voices is hypnotically moving, and the backup from McCusker on fiddle, drummer Kenny Malone on brushes and lightly tapped cymbals, and Doyle on guitar could not be a better fit.
Four of the album’s dozen tracks are instrumentals, and Doyle again proves why his guitar playing may be the most distinctive in all of Irish traditional music. His guitar and bouzouki picking on two jigs and a reel he wrote or co-wrote, “The Glad Eye/The Journeyman/The Wayward Son,” combines precision and passion, traits also readily apparent in Doyle’s solo playing of the first reel in “The Old Bush/Expect the Unexpected.” Frequent playing partner Liz Carroll joins him for that second tune, which he composed “with more of a jazzy swingy feel.” (Shades of the Belmullet Bullet, accordionist David Munnelly.)
Doyle and Carroll have emerged as a dream-team duo in Irish traditional music, and this track tantalizingly anticipates their upcoming album on Compass.
Another medley, “Tie the Bonnet/Monaghan Twig/A Fair Wind/The Convenience Reel,” leads again with Doyle’s forceful yet fine-spun guitar playing, and McCusker’s fiddling, McGoldrick’s flute playing, and Malone’s percussion add to the excitement. “Eddie Kelly’s/Reavy’s Tribute to Coleman” reels constitute an enticing mini-reunion of three founding Solas members: Doyle on guitar, John Williams on concertina, and Seamus Egan on E-flat whistle.
The sole exception to this otherwise laudable solo recording is the overly slow, lugubrious reading and arrangement that attenuate rather than intensify the sentiments expressed in the traditional song “The Month of January,” despite Linda Thompson’s vocal harmony.
For many years the musical ability of John Doyle, whose production work for his father’s “The Light and the Half-Light” solo debut last year was also impressive, has been well known to Irish traditional devotees. In recent years American bluegrass, old-time, and New Acoustic musicians (Alison Brown and Tim O’Brien especially) have caught on to Doyle’s skill as well. In the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains he has fashioned a fascinating career that now straddles all these genres, and “Wayward Son,” a splendid solo CD, will surely raise his musical profile in all of them.
Visit www.compassrecords.com or call 615-320-7672.

“All music is folk music,” Louis Armstrong once said. “I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.”
That quote by Armstrong appears in the booklet to West Virginia native singer and multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien’s upcoming CD, “Fiddler’s Green,” featuring John Doyle on three tracks. Doyle also appears on three tracks of another upcoming O’Brien album, “Cornbread Nation.” Among the other guests on these recordings (slated for release on Sept. 12) are O’Brien’s sister Mollie, Seamus Egan, Dirk Powell, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Dan Tyminski, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile.
Well-known for two past bands he led, Hot Rize and their country alter-ego Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, O’Brien is joined by Del McCoury on “Runnin’ Out of Memory,” one of the many highlights on “Cornbread Nation.” It is a hysterically funny, love’s kiss-off, bluegrass song O’Brien co-wrote that draws on contemporary computer language: “e-mail,” “hard drive,” “server,” “application,” “JPEG format,” “Zip drive,” “rebooting,” “compression,” and “megabyte of RAM.”
Hearing McCoury’s inimitable, high lonesome tenor on the song makes it all the more special.
“Cornbread Nation” and “Fiddler’s Green” were both recorded in Nashville for O’Brien’s own imprint, Howdy Skies Records, that is, exclusively licensed to Sugar Hill Records in Durham, N.C. Visit www.timobrien.net and www.sugarhillrecords.com.

Many, many years ago, before I became fully immersed in Irish traditional music, I was — and still am — a follower of the Persuasions, an a cappella group who formed in Brooklyn in 1962 and made their first recording in 1968 with Frank Zappa’s support. Jerry Lawson on lead vocal, Jayotis Washington on first tenor, Joe “Jesse” Russell on second tenor and falsetto, Jimmy Hayes on bass, and the late Herbert “Tubo” Rhoad on baritone took doowop and other tight, multi-part, R&B harmony singing to a new level of excellence and respect. I absolutely wore out the vinyl of their classic LPs: “We Came to Play” in 1971, “Street Corner Symphony” in 1972, and “Chirpin'” in 1977.
A couple of years ago Lawson left the group he helped to found, but the Persuasions, who “still ain’t got no band” (their motto), soldier on with Russell, Washington, Hayes, and their newest members, B. J. Jones and Ray
The group’s 43-year commitment to one instrument, the human voice, is still strong, and since 1999 they have expanded their repertoire with entire albums of children’s songs, Frank Zappa songs, Grateful Dead songs, and Beatles songs.
The a cappella quintet will be coming out on Sept. 27 with (appropriately enough) their 27th overall recording, “The Persuasions Sing U2.” To be released by New York’s Chesky Records, it includes “Angel of Harlem,” “When Love Comes to Town,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” “Mysterious Ways,” and “Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own.”
“We found that the songs were just tailor-made for us,” Jimmy Hayes explained. “Maybe it’s something about the Irish, the struggles they’ve gone through–Protestant against Catholic. Black Americans have gone through similar things. The songs just have that feeling.”
During their upcoming Fall 2005 U.S. tour, which starts on Sept. 20 and will take them to Boston’s Symphony Hall on Sept. 23 and Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va., on Nov. 19, the Persuasions will be singing a U2 song not on the CD, “Peace on Earth,” as their concert closer.
For more information, visit www.chesky.com and www.mglimited.com. For those who want to dig back for “We Came to Play” and “Street Corner Symphony,” each is available on CD from Nina’s Discount Oldies, Box 77, Narberth, PA 19072, 610-649-7565, 1-800-336-4627.

I suppose it was a matter of time before Galway-born fiddler and De Dannan founder Frankie Gavin headed his own festival. Featuring Gavin, Paddy Canny, Tommy Peoples, Maeve Donnelly, John Carty, Zo

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