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The Light and the Half Light
Artist: Sean Doyle
Label: Compass Records
Length: 15 tracks/58:39
It is rare that an artist can create a work in any genre that will come to be regarded as a masterwork. It is even rarer when it is accomplished in the artist’s first offering to the world. Sean Doyle has done just that with this new recording.
Doyle is the father of John Doyle, who has achieved renown as a member of the celebrated Irish group Solas. The younger Doyle had to work hard to convince his dad to join him in the studio. John serves as the producer, clearly demonstrating his deep feeling for the traditional songs he and his father selected, while also providing outstanding backing on a variety of stringed instruments. He surrounds his father with enough backing to highlight the vocals and the lyrics, which are all done in English. Additional musicians include Dirk Powell (bass & 5 string banjo) and John Williams (accordion).
The elder Doyle has a strong voice that finds the heart of each of the tunes, most of which he has been singing for decades. Listen to his unaccompanied rendition of “Mrs. McGrath,” a song about a mother’s response to the damages of war on her son. Doyle presents the tale simply, ignoring any vocal gymnastics. You can easily picture Doyle standing in his local pub, singing for his neighbors and friends. That intimate feel is maintained throughout the recording.
Other highlights include “The Flower of the County Down,” a tune about love at first sight, with John adding harmony vocals, and “The Flying Cloud,” a rare narrative about a man’s journey on a slave ship turned pirate vessel. Doyle has no trouble conveying the sailor’s sympathy for the plight of the ship’s human cargo and the weary resignation of the fate that awaits a condemned pirate. The Doyle’s are joined by ex-Freight Hoppers John Hermann (5 string banjo) and Rayna Gellert (fiddle) on “The Hawk and the Crow”, which finishes with a rousing instrumental passage.
This is a finely crafted recording that reflects Sean Doyle’s love for the songs that form his musical heritage. And it is also clear that that love of the tradition has been passed on to his son. John has created an aural landscape that brings life to the tales told through his father’s singing. Together they have created a recording that will take it’s place at the top rank of traditional Irish recordings. This is one for the ages and is highly recommended.
Mark Thompson 8/27/2004