The resurgence of traditional Irish music has been called a renaissance – awakening a yearning for identity with a deeply rooted culture of oppression, war, courtship and love, liquor worship and emigration stories honored through song. Dublin-born guitarist and singer-songwriter John Doyle has honored this tradition even as he cultivates it on his latest release Shadow and Light Compass Records.
Doyle was exposed to music at an early age through his family. A dare from a childhood friend and lack of formal training allowed him to develop his signature left-hand finger picking style – a style that informed the sound of the first Irish-American super-group Solas. Since then, Doyle has continued to hone his craft on the road and in the studio, earning a Grammy nomination for his collaboration with fiddler Liz Carroll in 2010 on Double Play (Compass Records). He has also collaborated with some of the most revered names in the genre including Heidi Talbot, Tim O’Brien and fellow Solas founder Karan Casey and, from 2008-2010, served as band leader for folk icon Joan Baez on her worldwide tour.
On Shadow and Light, Doyle pays tribute to Irish musical tradition while forging a path of his own on a set of largely original songs characterized by his rhythmic and harmonic genius. History and stories pervade the album’s eleven tracks from the first lyrics of the album opener “Clear the Way” – a translation from the old Gaelic “Faugh A Ballagh” which was the rallying cry of the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War. The song tells the story of the “Fighting 69th,” and their tragic battle at Fredricksburg, Virginia where their numbers were reduced from over 1600 to less than 300 by another predominantly Irish Confederate Regiment.
Another stand out track is “The Arabic,” named for the ship Doyle’s grandfather boarded to immigrate to America. A German submarine attacked the SS Arabic and Doyle’s grandfather was plucked out of the flotsam by a rescue boat and sent back to Ireland. “It’s all true, as far as I know,” smiles the boyish Doyle. Another family ode, “Tribute to Donal Ward/ The Curraghman” is an instrumental homage to Doyle’s rustic uncle Donal Ward and serves as the perfect showcase for Doyle’s virtuosic finger picking style. Family is a recurring theme; the album also includes “Little Sparrow,” a song for Doyle’s daughter that has been regularly featured in his live set. Throughout the album Doyle is accompanied by a cast of some of the most stellar players in acoustic music including Tim O’Brien (vocals, mandolin), Alison Brown (banjo), Kenny Malone (percussion), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Todd Phillips (bass), John Williams (accordion), Pete Grant (lap steel) and Michael McGoldrick (uillean pipes and flute).
When not at home in Asheville, NC, Doyle tours globally, and has appeared frequently at many of the taste-maker festivals in acoustic music including Celtic Connections in Glasgow, the Dublin Irish Music Festival in Dublin OH, MerleFest, Milwaukee Irish Festival, Sebastopol Celtic Festival, and the All-Ireland Fleadh. In addition to his work as a solo artist, he also performs regularly with other starts of the genre Andy Irvine, John Williams, Karan Casey, Liz Carroll and others. Doyle has also appeared on nationally syndicated radio shows including Prairie Home Companion and Mountain Stage and, in 2009, performed for President Obama in honor of St Patrick’s Day.