Editors' pick

John Doyle


Editorial Review

Album review: "Shadow and Light"

There's a subtle difference between Irish folk music and Irish American folk music, and that distinction is clarified by "Shadow and Light," the new album from John Doyle, the Dublin-born singer-guitarist who has spent his adulthood in the United States.

On two instrumental medleys (and many solos) on "Shadow and Light," you can hear how the native sources of Doyle's picking have been flavored by Appalachian string-band music and its echo of African American rhythms and bent notes.

But this album is primarily a showcase for the nine songs that Doyle wrote or co-wrote, and five of them deal explicitly with the fate of Irish immigrants in the United States, Canada and Australia. The song "Clear the Way" describes the "Fighting 69th," the legendary Union regiment of Irish volunteers in the Civil War and their tragic clash with a Confederate regiment of Irish volunteers at Fredericksburg. Backed by such top Nashville pickers as Tim O'Brien, Alison Brown and Stuart Duncan, Doyle marries driving American rhythms with a lilting Irish melody to push the story to its fateful climax.

On "Liberty's Sweet Shore," Doyle, in his modest but disarming tenor, describes the conditions of the transatlantic ships. "Wheel of Fortune" tells of an Irish miner following the Gold Rush into the Yukon, while "Bound for Botany Bay" is the lament of an Irish prisoner sentenced to an Australian prison.

--Geoffrey Himes, Nov. 11, 2011