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Music Review:
Two Very Different Traditionalists


"Wayward Son," John Doyle

John Doyle has something that’s even tougher to find in traditional music than in other genres – a truly original style. It isn’t so much a style of guitar playing or singing (though he has both), but a way of putting together the pieces of a song – the rhythm, the lyrics and backing instruments – that always seems unusual. His new solo album, Wayward Son (Compass) is obviously the work of an Irish traditionalist, but it doesn’t quite sound like any other Irish music you’ve heard.

Doyle has been known for some time as one of Ireland’s top guitarists. His heavily rhythmic playing invokes flavors of Latin, English and American music. But his new CD never turns into a catalogue of world music styles - a problem one finds on some Celtic albums nowadays. Highlights include “The Gallant Poacher," a tragic but rather jaunty-sounding tune about pheasant hunters, and a moody ballad Doyle wrote called “Bitter the Parting," with a vocal appearance by English folk star Kate Rusby. The album is rounded out with an outstanding medley of reels, “Eddie Kelly’s/Reavy’s Tribute to Coleman," where Doyle’s fast-moving guitar and John Williams’ eccentric concertina playing combine for a tune that’s a big step above the reels you’ll hear at the local pub.

"Down the Line," Ciaran Tourish

Being the fiddler for Altan is a pretty heavy credential in the Irish music world. On “Down The Line," Ciaran Tourish shows off not only his great playing, but his talent for putting together a variety of top-notch ensembles from his circle of musical friends. The album opens with a rave-up jig backed by guitarist Artie McGlinn (who John Doyle has cited as his #1 influence). There’s a certain formality to Tourish’s playing that reminds one of O’Carolan and other Irish musicians who’ve brought a classical feel to traditional playing (though I can’t find any indication that Tourish ever studied classical music). With McGlinn’s strident guitar backup, the piece sounds almost like a baroque harpsichord tune. Maybe Mozart would have sounded like this after a few pints of Guinness.

The CD then shifts to the Nova Scotia style “Carlisle Bay Waltz," a nice tune Tourish wrote himself. Like most instrumentalists, Tourish has invited several singers to join him. My favorite here is Maura O’Connell, who’s willowy, haunting voice brings the song Slan Le Maigh to life beautifully.

“Down the Line" by Ciaran Tourish and “Wayward Son" by John Doyle are both on Compass Records (www.compassrecords.com).