Evening Comes Early
I last saw virtuoso Irish folk guitarist John Doyle about a year and a half ago in Chicago, where he played to a small but appreciative pub crowd with concertina master John Williams. Both had been members of the Irish traditional group Solas, and both have since left the band. Although Doyle tried out a couple songs at that concert, he clearly needed more time to develop as a singer. Between then and now, though, Doyle’s singing has taken a tremendous leap forward. He still needs to work on his phrasing; occasionally his vocal treatments get a little monotonous (as on “Pretty Saro”). But all in all, Evening Comes Early is a very fine first solo album for Doyle, showcasing his considerable talents as a guitarist as well as his growing abilities as a folksinger with a pleasant, mellow voice and a taste for socially conscious songs of the working man.
Far and away the finest song on Evening for my taste is “Crooked Jack,” a song about Irish workers in England in the mid-1900s. Doyle’s driving rhythm guitar and Richie Stearns’s banjo pair perfectly with Doyle’s impassioned singing, eloquently expressing the pain and helpless rage of a strong Irishman whose back was broken and youth stolen for the building of a country not his own. “Sovay” (also known in other versions as “The Lady Highwayman”) has a wonderfully dark and mysterious feel, with Doyle’s singing almost hypnotically compelling as he tells the story of a young woman who robbed her lover on the road to test his love for her; Liz Knowles’ guest fiddle shines here too. “The Wheels of the World” is both a historical song about Ireland’s 19th-century rebellion against England and a timeless tale of how those in power roll roughshod over the workers whenever they can get away with it. Former Solas singer Karan Casey trades the lead vocals with Doyle on this one, and they also harmonize to beautiful effect.
But great as Doyle’s singing is on most of these tracks, his incredible guitar playing steals the show. On rhythm guitar his aggressive, percussive style works perfectly to keep a track moving, but his melodic work — for instance, on the album-closing “The Morning Dew and the Morning Star” — is every bit as good. I didn’t even know he played bouzouki, but his work with it on this album is just amazing, especially on the set of his own original tunes, “The Hungry Rock/The Sleuce Gate/Evening Comes Early.” And some of the guest musicians are outstanding, including Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll (whose recent solo album, Lost in the Loop, featured Doyle’s rhythm guitar on many tracks), concertina player John Williams, and uilleann piper Kieran O’Hare.