Irish vocalist Karan Casey and guitar virtuoso John Doyle were founding members of traditional supergroup Solas, a band known for rousing, furious tunes and striking renditions of traditional songs. In Exile’s Return, the two former bandmates reunite to create a stripped-down CD that showcases the power of those songs. Since Solas, each has carved out a unique and acclaimed place in contemporary Irish and folk music.
Karan Casey has recorded five solo albums, has won Best Irish Female Vocalist twice, Best Irish Folk album and a GRAMMY for her collaboration with Paul Winter. She has been nominated for the BBC Folk Awards and has performed with Peggy Seeger, Liam Clancy, James Taylor, and Tim O’Brien. On her 2008 CD Ships in the Forest, Casey’s evocative, haunting, and often imitated voice was accompanied by piano and cello. USA Today has called her work “shiver-inducingly excellent”.
John Doyle’s rhythmic guitar chops and effortless harmonies make him much in demand as a musical partner. He currently tours with Joan Baez as her musical director, and with virtuoso fiddler Liz Carroll. Doyle and Carroll played for President Obama in March 2009, and their CD Double Play received a 2010 GRAMMY nomination. Doyle also received a nomination for the 2009 “Tommy Makem Award” by the Irish Music Association. He’s played with Kate Rusby, Alison Brown, Mick Moloney and Linda Thompson, among others, and worked as a producer for Billy McComiskey. Irish Edition calls him a “dream guitarist.”
Casey describes the CD as a way of “pushing back a bit” to shine a bright light on the songs. Simplicity “takes a lot more depth,” she says. “You have to be a lot more confident in your playing and singing to take an honest, direct, simple approach. You can’t hide anywhere. It’s a very exposed album.” The spare arrangements on Exile’s Return cut right to the heart of the music, and that was the point. “A song is very intimate,” says Doyle, “even if it’s a very traditional song. Each song has a personal meaning.” On this CD, he says, “all the songs have an element of loss and yearning. At the end of the day songs are what carry stories of love, and all human emotions.”
All of the songs are Irish, Scottish and English, though the CD was produced by Appalachian multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell. Powell brought his own “tendencies toward simplicity and seeking the soul in the music” to the table.” The twelve songs feature only Casey and Doyle on vocals, with Mike McGoldrick joining in on flute and whistle, Powell adding some banjo and double bass, and Doyle on guitar, mandola, bouzouki. The sparse sound highlights the words.
Recording this CD has been something the pair have talked about for over seven years. Playing together in the studio created “A feeling of coming home,” says Casey. “John in his guitar playing really does catch me, almost like he knows what I’m thinking.” Doyle says, “Karan’s soul is in the music. We fit together, like hand in glove.”