John Doyle is regarded as one of the best Irish guitarists but even that accolade sells him way short. Doyle is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist as well. The Path of Stones is his follow-up to 2011’s Shadow and Light. If by chance, you’re wondering why Doyle records on a U.S. label, Compass, it’s likely since he’s lived in Asheville, NC for almost two decades now. In fact, his 2011 album was recorded in Nashville. The Path of Stones was recorded both in Ireland and Asheville with all eleven songs penned by Doyle. He is assisted by some great guests including Rick Epping, Cathy Jordan, John McCusker, Mike McGoldrick, and Duncan Wickel.
The album’s first single, “The Rambler from Clare” is inspired by a poem from WB Yeats. Doyle elaborates, “’The Rambler from Clare’ is a fantastic song from the 1798 rebellion about a roving rake who eventually joins the United Irishmen during the 1798 rebellion, The Year of the French. In the song, the rambler from Clare eventually escapes to America. I honestly cannot remember where I heard this song first. I changed the melody a little from the original. Some say is a Northern song and the ‘Clare’ they speak of are townlands in Co. Tyrone, but I tend to believe it’s a Co. Clare song. The lyrics can be found in Colm O’Lochlainn’s “More Irish Street Ballads’.”
On that track as well as most Doyle displays his string and musical versatility by playing mandola, mandolin, and bodhrán, in addition to guitar. He’s joined by Rick Epping on fiddle and Duncan Wickel on harmonica. The title track is the one of two that features Doyle alone and even there he plays both 6 and 12 string guitars and harmonium. His baritone vocals are gentle and make for easy listening but as you’d expect, four of the tunes are completely instrumental as Irish albums generally require reels and jigs, three of which are represented here as well as one instrumental song. His accompanists on these often include the two gents that frequently play with Mark Knopfler, Mike McGoldrick on flute and percussion and John McCusker on fiddle.
Other highlights include the lilting “Her Long Hair Flowing Down” with a deep bottom sound provided by McCusker on fiddle and harmonium while Wickel plays cello. Another one is this similar vein in the gorgeous “Lady Wynde” with Cathy Jordan on harmony and Wickel again on cello. “Teelin Harbour” moves along briskly as Doyle adds bouzouki, 5-string guitar, fiddle, harmonium, and keyboard to his arsenal with help from McCusker on fiddle and Jordan on lively harmonies. The album closes with an amazing testament to Doyle’s musical prowess as he plays three different types of guitars, bouzouki, and keyboards for the seven and half minute medley – “Knock a Chroi (air)/Beltra Fair (jig)/Aughris Head (slip jig).” There are times amidst Doyle’s gorgeous music when you can close your eyes and envision those meandering stone walls and rolling hills of his misty homeland.
For more context on Doyle since there’s been a long gap between albums, you may recall he was one of the founding members of the influential band, Solas. Before that, at age 16, he formed The Chanting House with Susan McKeown, joined later in that band by Seamus Egan and Eileen Ivers. Doyle has composed for films and theater, is a global touring artist, and an in-demand session man for countless of artists. You may want to check his previous solo album as well as these – 2004’s Wayward Son (Compass) and 2001’s Evening Comes Early (Shanachie).
In the meantime, savor this one. Traditional Irish music doesn’t get any better.