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JOHN DOYLE Shadow And Light

JOHN DOYLE Shadow And Light
Compass Records COMPASS4562

Generally recognised as the distinctive virtuoso southpaw guitarist with Solas and celebrated empathetic accompanist to Liz Carroll, Karan Casey and others, this second solo release by Irishman John Doyle confirms further the quality, too, of his writing, composing and singing.

Expectedly, the nine songs and two instrumentals are rich with the tight, propulsive and precise rhythmic chordal playing combined with intricate harmonic and melodic detail that characterise his guitar style. With it, however, comes a similarly rich narrative writing style, replete with engaging detail and emotive imagery, mainly exploring troubling facets of Irish history through the themes of family and migration.

These include Irish brigade volunteers in the American Civil War, potato famine emigration to Canada, the sense of anger and betrayal associated with the Irish contribution to the First War (in the context of Home Rule aspirations), an ancestor’s perilous and abortive effort to emigrate to the US involving a U-boat torpedoing the vessel involved, and an emigrant to the gold rush escaping the acute pain of a lost love. Other songs include a charming piece for his daughter and a hauntingly surreal reverie involving the mythical changeling, the selkie.

The story is always central, clearly conveyed by his appealing tenor voice, and finely embroidered by his exemplary guitar work, whether teeming notes and shimmering light (The Arabic) or plaintive filigree detail with a shadowy edge (Wheel Of Fortune). Further accompaniment is discreet and appropriate, carefully orchestrated to support the telling and tonal shading. It includes fiddle (Stuart Duncan), accordion/concertina (John Williams), bass (Todd Philips), percussion (Kenny Malone), and contributions from Tim O’Brien and Michael McGoldrick (with whose uillean pipes there is some masterfully complex and fluent interplay on the instrumental tribute to John’s uncle and dedicatee Donald Ward).

The photographic artwork with the CD is noteworthy too, as is the detailed background information about the songs, including lyrics, and, for the more anorakish musos, the individual details of all those wonderful custom guitars and other stringed things used to such great effect.

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.