John Doyle's playing on “The Path of Stones” is dynamic and the arrangements are complex. PHOTO BY STACIE HUCKABA
By Daniel Neely
If you’ve not yet heard, this summer’s Catskills Irish Arts Week has been cancelled. An inevitable but wise decision, CIAW’s statement in part read “it is with a heavy heart we announce that our Catskills Irish Arts Week will no longer be taking place this year. The safety of our artists, students, and staff are of utmost importance. We thank you all for your support and understanding. We are currently working on bringing you a virtual CIAW.” No news yet on what a virtual CIAW will entail, but updates will be posted to www.catskillsirishartsweek.com.
It’ll be tough getting your Irish music fix in this summer, but fear not as many, many musicians have moved online. After all, isn’t ersatz musicking in this time of covid better than none at all? A few weeks ago, for example, I wrote of Caitlin Warbelow and Chris Ranney’s excellent “Tune Supply” project (tune.supply), which is providing an important service and thriving. But last week, I heard from fiddle legend Martin Hayes (The Gloaming, Masters of Tradition, Dennis Cahill, The Teetotallers), who let me know he would be teaching online fiddle tutorials and masterclasses through the Patreon website. It’s a development that should delight the fiddle players out there.
Hayes’s approach is subscription-based and offers four levels of “membership,” which range from basic access to masterclass materials, large group lessons, small group lessons, and finally, one-on-one lessons, with many perks and subjects covered in between. It’s a pretty incredible rollout and will definitely have appeal to the fiddle players out there. You can check it out at www.patreon.com/martinhayes.
In other news, John Doyle (Solas, Joan Baez, Usher’s Island, and one of Hayes’s old bandmates from The Teetotallers) is out with “The Path of Stones,” a new album of songs and tunes that is simply outstanding. On it, he sings and plays guitar (of various configuration), bouzouki, mandolin, mandola, fiddle, harmonium, keyboard, each with great virtuosity. But what really makes this album work – and yes, it is great – is how he’s brought all these elements together. The tone, the musicality, the the spirit, are all working on what is, in every sense, a brilliantly done album.
The instrumental tracks are formidable. “Elevensies” is a brilliant tune that despite its unusual time signature is very relatable. He’s joined by Mike McGoldrick playing flute and bodhrán, who is the perfect foil for this ambitious track. (I’m reminded a bit of the olllam’s music on this one, actually.) The jigs “Naoise Nolan’s / …,” with Duncan Wickel on fiddle, are impressive as well. Doyle takes the lead with the mandola, which is a gorgeous choice that matches well with Wickel's fine, fine fiddle playing. The album closes with “Knock a Chroí / Beltra Fair / Aughris Head,” an air followed by a pair of jigs. The jigs are lovely, but I’m struck by what Doyle does with the air, which is delivered with great sensitivity over the sound of rainfall.
However, if you came for the tunes, you’ll be staying for the songs. Doyle’s voice is in fine form here, captured in a way that foregrounds the warmth and intimacy inherent to it. And he’s made some excellent song selections here, setting them in arrangements do them great justice. The album opens with "The Rambler from Clare,” with Rick Epping on harmonica and Duncan Wickel on fiddle. It’s a jaunty track with great craft and an ideal first track. “Sing Merrily to Me” is also lovely. A brooding track, Epping again guests on harmonica, adding a leisurely “crunch” to compliment Doyle’s guitar work and harmony singing. I also like the track “Teelin Harbour.” It’s a dramatic track with a big sound – it seems he's thrown the whole music shop into the arrangement – but Doyle steers the whole thing brilliantly with the help of John McCusker’s fiddle and Cathy Jordan’s singing and bodhrán playing. (Jordan appears on a few tracks here and is a great match for Doyle’s singing.) The album’s standout track, though, is likely “Path of Stones.” Doyle’s songwriting here is well-crafted and sensitively done. Coupled with easy playing and gorgeous harmonies make this track a radio-ready favorite.
“The Path of Stones” is an album that Doyle’s fans will love. His playing is dynamic and the arrangements complex. Overall, the music has all the hallmarks of Doyle’s style – it’s rife with percussive strumming, open chords, blazing lead runs and sinuous counter melodies – but it also has a transparency and warmth that isn’t as immediately apparent as on his earlier albums. It’ll have strong appeal to fans within and outside the irish music community, for sure. To learn more, visit johndoylemusic.com.