JOHN DOYLE - The Path Of Stones
John Doyle is no stranger to anyone who knows anything about Irish music. From Solas in the early days, through duo work with Liz Carroll and Karan Casey, several trios with the likes of Michael McGoldrick/John McCusker, Dermot Byrne/Eamonn Coyne and Martin Hayes/Kevin Crawford, to work with the Transatlantic Sessions and Joan Baez, he seems to be everywhere. After several years he’s finally found time for his fourth solo offering, and it’s a good one. Ten tracks – six songs and four tune sets - all bar one written by John himself.
The instrumental tracks are faultless, and showcase John’s abilities on guitar, mandola, mandolin, bouzouki, harmonium, keyboard, bodhrán and fiddle, and his knack for writing great tunes, which are mostly traditional in form and feel. In particular, his flatpicking on the set of reels is outstanding, and is reminiscent of early Gaughan in places.
The arrangements and the clear, warm production shine throughout both the tune sets and the songs. But when he chooses the likes of Michael McGoldrick (flute), John McCusker (fiddle) and Rick Epping (harmonica) as his accomplices, what else should we expect? Duncan Wickel (whom I haven’t encountered before) plays particularly tasty stuff on fiddle and cello too, and is central to the album’s feel. But for all that, this is very much a JD album, with his voice and instrumental skills very much to the fore.
The album begins with the only traditional song, the upbeat The Rambler From Clare, with a slightly altered tune and the typical Doyle energy and drive. Later, Lady Wynde features the understated harmony vocals of Dervish’s Cathy Jordan and an orchestral string arrangement that adds to the atmospheric feel. The Path Of Stones, inspired by a Yeats poem, has a memorable, singable chorus, and lots of imagery from nature. But my particular favourite here is Her Long Hair Flowing Down, a love song sung by an Irish emigrant to 19th century California. John’s intricate mandola and bouzouki work on this track is impeccable, and its melody is quite beautiful.
This album is unmistakably John Doyle: in the pinpoint precision of the tunes, the easy delivery of the songs, the top-notch accompaniments, the perfect production. And that rhythm when he lets rip… How many superlatives can I get into one sentence?? Just buy it!
This review appeared in Issue 135 of The Living Tradition magazine