Before Liz Carroll and John Doyle, Irish music in America struggled to compete with the music of the Old World. With a new generation of creative powerhouses living in the United States, however, the tables turned, and with John and Liz at the forefront, the US became a place for vibrant, forward-thinking Irish music. A match long in the making, Carroll and Doyle pursued remarkably parallel paths in becoming torch-bearers for the new Irish-American music.
Both fiddler Carroll and guitarist Doyle began their careers young, recognized as instrumental virtuosos. Carroll won the Senior All-Ireland Championship at age 18, not a small feat for an American. While Carroll traveled eastward across the Atlantic, Doyle moved westward, relocating from his family home in Dublin to New York. Introduced to Irish music by his grandfather Tommy, Doyle was playing professionally by age 16, and soon joined an energetic collection of New-York based Irish musicians, including Eileen Ivers and Seamus Egan.
Doyle’s partnership with Egan became Solas, the supergroup which would come to define Irish-American music. Doyle pioneered a rhythmic, sophisticated approach to Irish guitar accompaniment, setting a new standard for the instrument. The group recorded four tremendously influential albums together before splitting, and Doyle was dubbed “a master of his art with guitar” by The Celtic Café and “a master finger-picker” by Acoustic Guitar Magazine.
Meanwhile, Carroll continued to record, both as a solo artist and with the trio Trian. Like Doyle, the precocious fiddler became known not only for her facility with the tradition, but also for her innovative original contributions. Penning most of her own tunes, Carroll was termed “a fiddler reaching beyond herself” by noted critic and radio host Earle Hitchner. Her 1988 self-titled solo CD was chosen as a select record of American folk music by the Library of Congress.
The millennium was a milestone for both Carroll and Doyle. Already more than one decade into stable, successful careers, the fiddler and guitarist each broke new ground in their solo work — and also began contributing regularly to one another’s recordings. Both instrumentalists released two solo CDs between 2000 and 2005, and all four albums featured hints of a duo project to come.
Doyle, previously known as the “ex-Solas guitarist,” literally found his voice, recording several vocals for his debut solo release Evening Comes Early in 2001. Wayward Son, Doyle’s July 2005 follow-up, features more vocals, and has already garnered considerable critical acclaim in the month since its release.
Working without Solas for the first time, Doyle not only spread his wings with some singing, but also took advantage of the opportunity to feature one of his favorite players — and writers — on both discs. “Liz Carroll is a really good friend of mine and one of my favorite fiddle players in the world,” Doyle said in an interview following the release of Evening Comes Early “She is also my favorite composer of tunes.”
In 2000, Carroll released her first solo CD in 12 years, Lost in the Loop then followed that with Lake Effect in 2002. Co-producer Doyle was a conspicuous and highly influential presence, anchoring all but two of the tracks on Lake Effect with his trademark rhythmic style – and a softer side not often showcased in his work with Solas. The Irish Echo praised Doyle’s “spare, note-perfect accompaniment” on the Carroll slow air “A Day and an Age,” and Bill Margeson called the production of Lake Effect simply “perfection.”
Their debut duo album, In Play was lauded by fans and critics alike, bringing together three old friends — Carroll, Doyle, and Irish Music.