John Doyle
Shadow and Light
Compass Records

A founding member of Solas—one of the most influential Irish-American ensembles of the last decade—John Doyle is a leading force in Celtic acoustic guitar. His fluid chording, percussive rhythms, and haunting modal lines merge timeless Irish sounds with the crisp, ringing tones of bluegrass flatpicking.

On Shadow and Light, Doyle’s second solo album, we’re treated to two beautifully crafted instrumentals (combined, these intricate medleys total almost 15 minutes) and a rich collection of original songs that tell the story of Irish soldiers, immigrants, lovers, and lost souls. Whether he’s playing his Muiderman, McConnell, and Fylde flattops, or picking mandola, mandolin, and 8-string bouzouki, Doyle delivers his parts with supple speed and shimmering clarity. Often, he’ll layer flattop and bouzouki to create harmonized lines that evoke a fretted string ensemble.

Doyle’s songwriting gifts are especially evident on Shadow and Light. His lyrics unfold like short stories, with each verse moving the narrative forward with a level of detail you just don’t encounter in typical rock or pop music, and his exquisite rhymes are as carefully woven as the strands of a Celtic knot.

His musical compadres—including Stuart Duncan and John Williams on fiddle, Tim O’Brien on mandolin, Alison Brown on banjo, Todd Phillips on bass and accordion, and the legendary Kenny Malone on percussion—are all virtuosos who effortlessly follow the dynamic ebb and flow of Doyle’s epic songs. If you’re unfamiliar with this lefty’s unique approach to flatpicking, seek him out on YouTube and then explore Shadow and Light. It’s an inspiring journey.

Must-hear track: “The Arabic”