Photo: Stacie Huck / Courtesy of Compass Records

John Doyle Goes Quietly Down ‘The Path of Stones’

Irish music maven John Doyle plays guitar in a refined and decorous manner, even when laying down a jig or reel. There's something courteous and genteel about the whole affair.

The Path of Stones
John Doyle
1 May 2020

Irish music maven John Doyle‘s latest release, The Path of Stones, is a very pleasant record. That is its greatest strength and its strongest weakness. On the plus side, the record is warm and charming, polite, and respectable. Doyle doesn’t raise his voice, even when declaring love or conveying dangerous circumstances. He plays guitar in a refined and decorous manner, even when laying down a jig or reel. There’s something courteous and genteel about the whole affair.

Even the title song “The Path of Stones” seems more like a rose-strewn path than a rocky road. Doyle handles all the chores on the track by himself. He sings and harmonizes with himself, plays six-string and 12-string guitars and the Harmonium. The lyrics relate to waiting for love to return. Doyle writes about the “savage soul of man” with “battled rages all about me” in a calm voice. The lyrics bespeak passion, but their presentation suggests disinterest. He intentionally tempered the sentiments. On the same cut, he sang more decorous lines such as “your light upon me lingers” that offer a more chivalrous approach to romance. Doyle wrote all of the songs — except for the lyrics to “The Rambler from Clare”, which are traditional — and he produced the album. The tamping down of desire on this song and others is intentional.

The record is somewhat evenly divided between songs with words and instrumental. Doyle is sparsely accompanied on all the rest of the cuts except one, the medley “Knock A Chroi (air) / Beltra Fair (jig) and Aughris Head” (slip jig)” in which he plays not only the aforementioned instruments but bouzouki and keyboards as well. It’s a lovely piece. This seven-plus minute track allows Doyle to navigate his way through a series of riffs and tempos to express changing moods and mindsets from the reflective to the more dance in your head type moments.

The other tracks feature flute, bodhrán, fiddle, and cello accompaniment, although no individual cut contains more than two other players. The instrumental tracks are better than the songs with lyrics. For example, the tune “Elevenses” moves at a fast tempo as Doyle and Mike McCormick play several acoustic instruments in kind of a quiet sonic duel, each one building on top of what came just before. The rapid pace allows them to stretch out, sometimes on mandolin and flute, next time on guitar and bodhrán, without seeming cluttered. The musicianship sparkles.

The songs with words seem affected by strained poetic lyrics that veer towards cliché. They are full of old-fashioned ladies, bonnie red roses, and muscle-straining men. Doyle has a soothing voice. It works when heard as just another layer of sound but distracts when listened to. The instrumental portions of the songs with words work better than the parts with singing, even when he employs a guest vocalist like Cathy Jordan on “Lady Wynne” and “Teelin Harbor”.

The Path of Stones reveals Doyle’s considerable talents as a guitarist and player of other stringed-instruments. It’s a very pleasing record. However, I do wish Doyle would have gotten mad or manic, at least once.

RATING 7 / 10