Irish echo logo 750x550

Doyle's brilliant year

On Sun., Jan. 31, we'll find out if he and Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll win the best traditional world music album Grammy for "Double Play" (Compass), their exceptional, co-produced CD that finished fifth in the Irish Echo's top ten traditional albums of 2009. This first-time nomination for the Irish traditional duo is a breakthrough in another sense, confirming industry-wide recognition of their accomplishments.

Doyle also appears on seven other albums issued in 2009. They include two more co-produced by him for Compass Records: Mick Moloney's "If It Wasn't for the Irish and the Jews" (sixth in Irish Echo's top ten list) and "The Green Fields of America" (15th in Irish Echo's top 30 list). The remaining five releases are "Irish Pirate Ballads and Other Songs of the Sea" (Smithsonian Folkways); "How Sweet the Sound" (CD and DVD on Razor & Tie/American Masters) by Joan Baez, for whom he's also music director; "The Company You Keep" (Compass) by Alison Brown; "Out of Ireland" (deluxe edition DVD and CD multi-pac reissue of 1995 documentary soundtrack on Shanachie Entertainment); and "Helping Hands" (Fiddlesticks Music) by Jerry Holland and John Doyle.

That last CD offers an insight into the character of John Doyle. With no fanfare and no concern for his hyper-busy schedule, he flew to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, to record the 18 tracks of "Helping Hands" over two days (June 24-25) at the River Ryan home of Roberta and Dan Head. Cape Breton fiddler Jerry Holland was in the final throes of the cancer that would claim his life on July 16 -- just three weeks later.

In his June 28 note for the last track on the CD, Holland wrote: "It's just a dream come true for me to make a record with John, in this kind of informal setting, just playing off the cuff. As John said when we were done and listened back, 'It's just the magic of music and friends,' and I have to agree."

On the CD cover is Paul Wells's photo of Holland and Doyle, playing and smiling on stage at the 2008 ICONS festival in Canton, Mass. I was the emcee for their Sept. 13, concert on the Point stage at ICONS. It was one of the most courageous, moving, and, yes, joyous performances of Celtic traditional music I have ever witnessed. Again, John Doyle was at the heart of it, and his alternating percussive-rhythmic and graceful support on guitar and mandola for Holland's fiddling on "Helping Hands" has helped to make it the Irish Echo's best non-Irish Celtic album of 2009. Hearing Jerry play Liz Carroll's "Golden Legs" with John is an additional treat.

Besides his musical collaborations with Jerry Holland, Liz Carroll, Mick Moloney, Alison Brown, and Tim O'Brien, Doyle is a member of Moonlighting, a powerhouse band featuring Altan's Ciaran Tourish and Dermot Byrne, Capercaillie's Mike McGoldrick, and Flook's John Joe Kelly.

An especially memorable collaboration for Doyle occurred during Sept. 11-13 at Manhattan's Irish Arts Center, where he and Andy Irvine of Sweeney's Men, Planxty, Patrick Street, and Mozaik fame presented three superb concerts together.

At IAC, Doyle proved again why he is one of the world's finest acoustic guitarists, with a uniquely propulsive style melding rhythm and percussion, and since 2001, the year he issued his solo debut "Evening Comes Early," he has grown steadily into a persuasive singer.

John Doyle joins an elite club comprising the Irish Echo's Traditionalists of the Year: Charlie Lennon, James Keane, Joe Derrane, Seamus Egan, Joanie Madden, John Whelan, Mick Moloney, Liz Carroll, Kevin Crawford, Seamus Connolly, Mike Rafferty, Andy McGann (posthumous), Monsignor Charlie Coen, Kathleen Biggins and Brian O'Donovan (radio host co-recipients for 2006), Micheal O Suilleabhain, and Brian Conway.

Congratulations to John Doyle on receiving this newspaper's most prestigious annual accolade for accomplishment in Irish traditional music.

Follow us on social media

Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.