exiles return: karan casey & john doyle
Irish music is filled with stories, and that is certainly what John Doyle and Karan Casey offer in this long planned collaborative project. The stories in the main have to do with loss and longing, whether that be of the emigrant in the title track, the betrayed lover in False Lover John, the man who loves so much he returns as a ghost in The Bay of Biscay, or the man whose sure he’ll come back to Belfast by the end of the year in The Shipyard Slips.
Doyle is an Irishman who lives now in America; Casey is an Irishwoman who lived long in the United States and is now living in Ireland again. He’s an endlessly creative guitarist and arranger, and a fine singer, she’s a singer of clarity and thought who’s been called one of Irish music’s best. They both were for a time part of the band Solas, whose work is credited with changing the face of Irish American music. In the midst of full solo careers, they’ve been planning a duo album since they crossed paths again for a Solas reunion concert and recording several years back.
They took time in choosing the material here, and it’s wisely chosen. The dozen tracks are all stories of loss and longing and leave taking in one way or another, and in Casey’s and Doyle’s hands they become companions on the journey of figuring out one’s own experiences with these emotions. They are all not positive tales, exactly. The False Lady stabs her lover and flings him into the sea, for example -- and has to deal with her conscience (in the form of a parrot) accusing her on the subject. The Little Drummer Girl is discovered in her ruse of pretending to be a man in the army and and finds that she must face the world alone again. Sailing Off to the Yankee Land tells of emigration in famine times, a song with an edgy sentiment set to a jaunty tune. Though with one exception they are songs from the tradition, Casey and Doyle make them sound as fresh as though they speak of current happenings.
The contemporary song they chose is the title track, Exiles Return, which was written by Doyle. He doesn’t write so very many songs (you’ll more likely find him collaborating on songs with Cathie Ryan or tunes with Alison Brown, or touring with Joan Baez) but those he does write claim your attention, as does this one, a story of a voyage in famine times on the the ship the Jeanie Johnston.
And though we bid farewell in sorrow
We may meet again in distant lands
And drink a health in joy for parting
For the Exile will return again
Casey and Doyle clearly get to the heart of each song here, none more than this one. From all this it may sound as though the album is a bit grim. It’s not, far from it. It is, however, a thoughtful recording which repays repeated listening.
you may also wish to see
Karan Casey: Ships in the Forest
Liz Carroll & John Doyle: Double Play
Alison Brown: The Company You Keep
Cathie Ryan: Songwriter