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Exiles Return
Compass 4529

I could listen to John Doyle playing the guitar all day!  His relentless rhythm and driving style on faster tracks is as wonderful as his subtle and sympathetic accompaniment for slower songs.  When you hear him play you know it can’t possibly be anyone else.  All this and he can sing too.  Life is not fair!  He joins forces on this album with Karan Casey, a singer of renown, whose voice is sweet and effortless.  Both are former members of supergroup Solas, and have since had very successful musical careers, finding themselves named amongst the best of the best in their game.

This recording features 12 songs, mostly traditional and mostly concerned with emigration.  The singing is shared between them, with some very fine harmonies, the two voices work well together.  The arrangements are quite sparse at times, and this makes the album for me, it really makes you focus on the songs.  John plays his usual assortment of strings (guitars, bouzouki and mandola) and the only other accompaniment is provided by Dirk Powell on banjo and double bass, and Michael McGoldrick on flute and whistle.  Now I know that these boys could let rip with a wall of sound if they wanted to, but in general they don’t.  And the CD is the better for it.

Of all the tracks, my favourite is the title track, written by John himself, and sung beautifully by Karan with John’s simple and effective harmonies.  It’s a song of parting and loss, and the promise of re-union, based on the story of the Jeanie Johnston, a timber merchant’s ship that some 2,500 immigrants travelled to America on.  Karan is accompanied here only by John on the guitar, and his playing is sublime.  The result is a song that really touches your emotions, and I would bet that it will be sung by many a singer in years to come.

Fiona Heywood

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This album was reviewed in Issue 85 of The Living Tradition magazine.