Robert Doyle is a guitarist / singer / songwriter from Dublin. His intricate fingerstyle guitar work and arrangements of his own and traditional songs are earning him an ever widening audience both in Ireland and further afield. Although he started learning guitar at the age of nine, Robert didn’t turn to traditional music until later in life. It was while living in New York he that heard new approaches to Irish traditional music. Following an introduction to the music of Ali Farka Toure, Robert’s attention was increasingly drawn by acoustic sounds. His debut album, Life In Shadows, is a mix of traditional and original material with songs sung in Irish and English, and solo instrumental pieces.
Opening the album with a well-known standard, Tá mo Chleamhnas Déanta, Robert acknowledges the enduring influence this track, as performed by Van Morrison and The Chieftains, has had on his music. In addition to the well known traditional material, Life In Shadows subtly incorporates many more of Robert’s musical influences in varying degrees. Trasna na Slí was the self-composed title track of Robert’s 2008 EP. Since that release he’s extensively re-worked this song to suit his developing guitar style. His gently expressive voice and dramatic guitar make this compelling listening. The Old Hag at the Kiln is a live favourite of Roberts, he first heard the jig from The Bothy Band and learned this carefully paced arrangement from Scottish guitarist Mark Thomson.
Robert’s voice is very much the star in the traditional and oft told story, Siún Ní Dhuibhir; while the album’s title track, Life In Shadows, is a beautiful instrumental written for the album, it illustrates the warmth and skill of Robert’s playing and hints at many of his influences.
Porte du Soleil is another original song, followed by a return to traditional material in which Robert takes his lead from The Chieftains once more, with a distinctive instrumental version of Cailín na Gruaige Doinne. He absorbs his influences and translates them to his own style with grace and sympathy. In Pretty Saro the tone is unmistakeably Appalachian but the delivery is entirely in keeping with the rest of the album. The final traditional track is the air Bold Robert Emmet; an instrumental version of the song about the Irish patriot, executed in 1803. The album closes on an equally sombre note with Tahrir Square. This studio improvisation was inspired by the events unfolding in Egypt in January 2011…
“While being struck by the bravery and conviction of the protestors I was also sickened by the hypocrisy of the Western governments who have for decades supported brutal dictatorships throughout the Middle East”
Robert’s fingerstyle guitar playing, and the guitar’s mesmerizing tone, are the main draws of this album. His playing is precise and accomplished, his arrangements individualistic. His guitar style benefits from the influence of his former tutor, French-Algerian guitarist Pierre Bensusan, and I detect more than a little homage to the great American guitarist, Michael Hedges. His emotional vocal performances also merit attention. Owing much to the Sean-Nos style, Robert delivers each song on the album with skill and captivating clarity.
Following on from Life In Shadows, Robert Doyle’s plans include the completion of unfinished pieces he was working on while recording, to explore some collaborative opportunities with other Dublin based musicians and, generally, to keep playing guitar. With a debut as strong and as polished as this, that should be good news for us all.