Exile’s Return is one of the most eagerly anticipated Irish releases of the new year. It is also the first time that vocalist Karan Casey and guitar virtuoso John Doyle have collaborated in the studio as a duo since their days as band mates in the genre defining band Solas.
At the core of Exile’s Return is a sense of musical simplicity which draws on the confidence the two musicians have developed over the years. For Karan Casey, that simplicity is a way of shining a bright light on the songs. Simplicity "takes a lot more depth," she says. "You have to be a lot more confident in your playing and singing to take an honest, direct, simple approach. You can’t hide anywhere. It’s a very exposed album." John Doyle echoes that sentiment. "A song is very intimate," says Doyle, "even if it’s a very traditional song. Each song has a personal meaning." On this CD, he says, “all the songs have an element of loss and yearning. At the end of the day songs are what carry stories of love, and all human emotions."
Although the songs on the album are Irish, Scottish and English, John and Karan selected Appalachian multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell to produce the recording. Tremendously gifted in his own right and a current member of Joan Baez’ touring band along side John Doyle, Dirk brought his own affinity for simplicity in production to the table. Stripped down instrumentation, featuring the distinct voices of Dirk’s banjo and bass together with John Doyle’s guitar, mandola and bouzouki and guest Mike McGoldrick’s flute and whistle, serves to highlight the words and draw the emotions of the songs to the forefront.
Recording this CD is something that John and Karan have been talking about for over seven years. Playing together in the studio created "a feeling of coming home," says Casey. "John in his guitar playing really does catch me, almost like he knows what I’m thinking." Doyle says, "Karan’s soul is in the music. We fit together, like hand in glove."
Gwen Orel is owned by Celtic Music. She is its slave and it bosses her around. Gently. She founded the (sadly now defunct) Celtic Music Society of Montgomery (Alabama), where she presented Karan Casey, Altan, Jim Malcolm and others, then at the Folk Project (NJ) presented Cherish the Ladies, Tannahill Weavers, Mick Moloney and others. She writes about roots/world/celtic music and theatre for the Village Voice, Time Out New York, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Irish Music Magazine, among others.
The only thing difficult about this assignment was limiting it to five! Because how can I leave off Mick Moloney, Grada, Bearfoot, Karan Casey, Teada, Beoga, Cara Dillon, Green Fields of America? But since I can’t list them all here are just a few...
1. The Company You Keep - Alison Brown
Listening to this album is like entering a musical room. I don’t put it on shuffle— the album has its own shape, and I’d miss the way Mairtin O’Connor’s “The Road West” evolves into Alison and Garry’s “Drawing Down the Moon.”
2. Double Play - Liz Carroll and John Doyle
The partnership of these two artists creates pure magic, with Carroll’s virtuoso playing and gorgeous original tunes (“Lament for Tommy Makem” mourns with beauty) and Doyle’s rhythmic playing and evocative singing. A lot of it’s really upbeat and energetic but I love the peaceful ones, including the sweet original “Little Christmas.”
3. Inside Out - Missy Raines and the New Hip
Laidback, full of emotion, this album is pretty groovy. “Basket of Singing Birds” goes down like smooth sweet tea, with bass player Raines’ voice delivering the ambivalent lyrics. And “Stop, Drop and Wiggle,” written in honor of Raines’ cat, is full of mischief, particularly with Michael Witcher Dobro and the sounds of Ethan Ballinger’s guitar.
4. Music from the Atlantic Fringe - The Unwanted
Catherine Jordan, Seamie O’Dowd and Rick Epping have put together a kind of Western American-Irish theme park of an album, and its energy is explosive. The tunes are catchy and irresistible and show how that ebb and flow from one continent to another washed up some pretty great sounds. I’m still bowled over by their live showcase in NY this past weekend! “Out on the Western Plains” picks you up at the top of the album and you’re off, but I’m particularly fond of “Sadly Grows the Rose,” a Nashville song that sounds like an ancient ballad.
5. Live from the Powerhouse - Mozaik
Everything Andy Irvine does is good, and the second Mozaik album, Changing Trains, is also terrific, but this album stands out as a little piece of perfection. It’s a fusion kind of band, led by Andy Irvine, with old-timey fiddler Bruce Molsky, Irish guitarist Donal Lunny, Dutch mandolinist Rens van der Zalm and Hungarian musician Nikola Parov. The rhythms are often Eastern European and the effect is exhilarating. Irvine’s recorded Woody Guthrie’s “Never Tire of the Road” several times now, but this one, with the old-timey “Pony Boy” leading it off, is really rousing. I feel like protesting something or other when Irvine sings “all of you fascists bound to lose.”
Congratulations to both Mick Moloney and Martin Simpson for winning Live Ireland’s "Livie 2010" awards. To view all of the winners click here.