John Doyle: Wayward Son

Steve Horowitz

Nothing flashy here, just a man singing and playing guitar Celtic folk style, with able assistance from other stellar vocalists and instrumentalists like Linda Thompson, Kate Rusby, and Danny Thompson.

John Doyle

Wayward Son

Label: Compass
US Release Date: 2005-07-19
UK Release Date: 2005-08-22
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate

Celtic music fans know John Doyle best as the lead guitarist of the legendary folk group Solas. He was the least well-known member of the band, taking a backseat to multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan, searing fiddler Winifred Horan, concertina expert John Williams, and lead singer Karan Casey. Doyle's rhythmic playing and harmony vocals provided a solid foundation from which the others could take the spotlight and shine. Although Doyle takes center stage on his second solo album, he keeps the arrangements simple and his playing uncomplicated. The disc does not contain any flashy string arpeggios or soaring vocals, just a dozen traditional style ballads, jigs, and reels faultlessly executed.

Doyle rarely strains his voice to sing his tales of murderous sea captains, unwed mothers, and dangerous outlaws. He carefully articulates each syllable, as he's more interested in telling the stories than in embellishing the tales. This works better on the songs that have beginnings, middle, and ends rather than the more atmospheric yarns. Doyle's version of "Jack Dolan", which frequently goes by the name "The Wild Colonial Boy", provides a positive example of this. The title character robs the rich and powerful of the Australian settlements. When the authorities surround Dolan, he fights to the death rather than surrender and go to prison. Doyle tells the tale bit by bit, so that by the time the climactic final scene occurs, the listener has understood the full extent of the tragedy. Dolan is too fierce to live free, too free to live penned up. Doyle's straightforward vocal rendition allies him with the forces of civilization, but his fast-paced stringed accompaniment reveals his sympathy with the untamed man. Doyle's ably backed by English bassist Danny Thompson (Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson) and percussionist Kenny Malone (John Mellencamp, Alison Krause), who keep the rhythm ever moving. Bluegrass stalwart Stuart Duncan's fiddle playing provides an audio allegory of Dolan's untrammeled spirit.

The aforementioned three musicians are just some of the all-star talents that assist Dolan. The reclusive singer Linda Thompson joins him on the traditional Irish tune "The Month of January", while English songbird Kate Rusby joins him on his original composition, "Bitter the Parting". Banjo maven Alison Brown assists on the sea shanty "Captain Glenn", while the great Irish American fiddle player Liz Carroll joins him on a couple of songs. Still, this is Doyle's CD. His accompanists, even on the instrumentals, never overwhelm him.

Doyle performs one tune himself, aptly, a song of unrequited love called "The Cocks Are Crowing". The mysterious lyrics don't really say what the problem is. The girl puts him off, but seems to have feelings for the boy who declares his affections. Her parents' objections seem to do with her not being a fitting bride, but the narrator dismisses their qualms and reiterates his deep feelings. The last stanza obfuscates rather than clarifies the problem. Doyle admits in the liner notes that the final four lines mystified him when he heard it first on a field recording of Eddie Butcher, and later on a disc by a group called the Voice Squad. Doyle said he understands the final verse better now after the legendary folklorist Mick Moloney explained it to him, but unfortunately Doyle doesn't offer the details here. What is one to make of:

If the Killey Boyne, it were my ink horn /
And the green fields, they were mine, and white /
If my pen were made of the tempered steel, sure /
My true love's praises I could never write.

Doyle sings the lyrics clearly over a gentle fingered guitar accompaniment and sounds neither happy nor sad. He continues playing the lilting melody for almost another minute after the words end, never faltering or fading, before stopping at the measure's closure. Presumably, the narrator heads off alone but one doesn't understand why. This is one of the times in which plainly articulating the lyrics doesn't seem to pay off.

Of course, this is not a problem on the songs without words. Doyle plays four sets of mostly traditional instrumental tunes with different players. The musicians perform the jigs and reels with gusto and precision. Doyle's self-penned "Expect the Unexpected" reveals his jazzy side. While clearly rooted in Irish conventions, Doyle plays Django Reinhardt style licks while Liz Carroll's fiddle swoops in, out and over the lines. The two swing. They do not need language to induce listeners to smile and get happy.






Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.