It’s taken some time, but Dublin guitarist / singer / songwriter Robert Doyle has at last released a follow up to his beautiful debut album, Life In Shadows, which we reviewed back in 2011 (read it here). His second album, Lig Amach, has the same impressive fingerstyle guitar work, as well as traditional songs and tunes, mixed with Robert’s own compositions. Lig Amach, however, (which translates as Let Out) also moves on from that memorable 2011 release with a stronger emphasis on Robert’s song writing in English, a more personal approach to the mix that provides a more organic sound; and a handful of guest musicians to enhance that sound.
Having started playing guitar at the age of nine, it wasn’t until Robert was living in New York, concentrating on producing electronic music, that he first heard Ali Farka Touré and began to cultivate an interest in traditional music. This lead directly to him developing the intricate fingerstyle technique that was premiered on his 2008 Trasna Na Slí E.P., refined to an impressive degree on Life in Shadows, and has become his hallmark.
Lig Amach opens with An Seanduine, Robert’s own arrangement of a traditional Irish Gaelic song. Inspired by the recordings of Seamus Begley and Danú, Robert eases the listener into the album so effectively that as the song skips gently along, it’s clear there’s a story emerging here; even without a word of Gaelic to fall back on. The story is the familiar tale of a young girl wedding an old man, and it unfolds among Robert’s gently rolling guitar, with harmonies and an earthy chorus from Chris Haigh‘s fiddle.
Clearly keen to explore the possibilities offered by singing in English, on Lig Amach Robert has included three of his own songs. Across the Line is a powerful story, told from two viewpoints – those fleeing the Islamic State invasion of Kobani in September 2014, and those struggling to cross back into Syria to defend the city.
Defending the city
And the lives
Of those who could not leave
They’re still under fire
Won’t you let me cross the line
The beseeching tones in Roberts vocal, the urgency conveyed in the guitar, the evocative lyrics – all combine in an enthralling performance. Haigh’s eerie fiddle haunts the verses, until Magnus Mehta‘s light percussion comes along to set it free, adopting eastern tones and atmospheres. There’s a contrast with Round Two – with a far more contemporary approach in a song about indecision, confusion. Francesco Ganassin‘s alto sax adds a wilful tone – a rebellious addition to the arrangement that makes you sit up and take notice.
Not content to limit himself to European song, Robert includes some Appalachian flavours with Country Blues, from 1920’s banjo player Moran ‘Dock’ Boggs; in his own, distinctive style. The fiddle provides an air of dexterous complexity alongside the soft strum of the guitar, and Robert’s voice injects some embittered passion as the song draws to a close.
When I am dead and buried
My pale face turned to the sun
You can come around and mourn, little woman
And think the way you have done
Creating a mix that combines the earthy textures of Robert’s vocal along with the precision of his guitar work hasn’t been an easy journey. Robert started work on Lig Amach immediately after recording Life in Shadows. His plans, however, took longer to bear fruit than he intended, when the evolution from the first album didn’t progress as he had hoped. His meticulous approach to recording may well stem from his work as a studio engineer for Dublin-based D1 Records, the brainchild of his brother, Eammon. Robert persisted, drawing on his studio experience, and through a number of sessions arrived in a place he felt happy.
There’s a rawness to Robert’s voice that could easily seem at odds with the softness of his fingerstyle guitar, but his arrangements and choices of song on Lig Amach help him avoid any unduly stark contrasts. So when his beautiful self-written solo guitar melody, Armona, drifts from the speakers; there’s no surprise in the realisation that one of the most enjoyable features of Robert’s first album was simply being able to listen to him play guitar, without any adornments. Armona provides a light and breezy return to that fulfilling experience. Lig Amach, another of Robert’s own compositions, initially confesses a mild jazz influence – then begins to relish it amid some of the most subtle bass lines on the album.
Just as with his previous album, when it comes to arranging traditional melodies for guitar, Robert will often turn to the work of Scottish guitarist Mark Thomson. A fine pair of jigs provide an enjoyable example in Sliabh Russell/Out on the Ocean. At a steady but relaxing pace, Robert’s intricate guitar work picks out some rich bass harmonies amid the softly tumbling jig. It’s totally enchanting and you’re unlikely to hear a more soothing sound from a guitar. The fascinating The Old Truigha is Robert’s own arrangement, an antiquated melody given a more contemporary outing in his skilled hands, despite its medieval tones; and Caisleán An Óir/The Maids of Mitchelstown make a perfect pair for solo guitar.
In a final song from Robert. Flags of Belfast provides the listener with the best of both worlds – Robert’s song set to a traditional air. Written during the Belfast City Hall flag protests of 2014, the song includes vocal harmonies from Aoife Dermody that prove a fine match for Robert’s; in terms of both style and tone. There’s a closing contribution from Eoin Dillon on uilleann pipes and the album draws to a thoughtful conclusion.
Masks leave faces with no names
One after another taking aim
As broken bottles fall all around
The flags of Belfast town
Just as with Life In Shadows, the star of Lig Amach has to be the guitar’s unique, airy, rounded tone. There are more influences involved on this album, though, and a clear progression in Robert’s approach. With more emphasis on song writing, his compelling vocals are more liberated; with guitar arrangements covering a wider range of styles and techniques there’s added depth and colour for the listener. The sound, however, is of a natural progression, rather than a forced attempt to adopt particular styles. You just know, that when you listen to Robert Doyle play and sing, you’re hearing exactly what you would in a live setting. There’s no need for adornments – the guitar, vocal, melodies, words all speak for themselves. Robert has an approach to music that’s all his own, and this is what shines through on Lig Amach.
Lig Amach is Out Now