They may incite the odd begorra (or sacre bleu), but the oddity of a sextet of Frenchmen from Toulouse peddling traditional Irish folk under the moniker of County Clare’s most renowned music centre is obliterated by the band’s polish and panache. Corroboration comes in a self-titled sixth release. The fact Doolin’ was produced by a stalwart of the American-Irish folk scene, John Doyle, in a Nashville studio with assistance from local legends serves only to consolidate the band’s credentials, which are showcased in a perfectly balanced set. Sophisticated interplay between instruments (violin, accordion, guitar, whistles, bodhran and bass) that echoes Irish luminaries Lunasa and the Bothy Band combine with influences from jazz, rock and funk — even rap — to add spice to traditional jig and reel medleys. Doyle’s rhythmic drive on bouzouki helps propel The Road to Gleanntan and Wind Her Up to standout status. In other instrumentals, Mike McGoldrick’s flute imbues Reel Africa with trance feel; Jerry Douglas’s dobro lends sustain to the reflective Le Dernier Kouign Amann and Mary Shannon’s tenor banjo authenticates Mary’s Jigs. Elsewhere, Alison Brown’s five-string banjo embellishes readings of Steve Earle’s The Galway Girl and Bob Dylan’s Ballad of Hollis Brown, rendered by Doolin’s resident singer-accordionist with an inflection that’s more Gaelic than Gallic. The only real assertion of Wilfried Besse and the band’s identity comes in his/their version of Jacques Brel’s Amsterdam, and even that classic chanson gets an Irish makeover.
Doolin’ are a French band who play Irish music on fiddle, whistles, accordeon, guitar, bass and bodhrán. Their Irish traditional musicianship is excellent: try the superb set of reels The Road To Gleanntán. For this, their fifth album, they’ve chosen to give their Irish music a transatlantic touch, and recorded the album in Nashville, Tennessee with the help of Irish singer-songwriter John Doyle (who accompanies Doolin’ on bouzouki throughout this album and worked with them on the musical arrangements). Interestingly, Doolin’ chose the theme of famine as a framework for the whole album. Ballads about the 19th Century Great Famine in Ireland sit alongside songs reflecting on starvation in today’s world. Chanson Pour John is Nicolas Besse’s original ballad about the Irish Famine. Reel Africa is a set of uptempo Irish traditional tunes set to African rhythms and percussion (the African theme a pointed reminder that the horror of starvation once visited on poor Irish Catholics is a continuing reality in contemporary Africa). Mike McGoldrick’s extrovert flute joins Doolin’ for Reel Africa. Doolin’s cover version of Ballad Of Hollis Brown gives a Nashville Irish arrangement to
Bob Dylan’s powerful song (and true story) about a man living in poverty in South Dakota, who kills his wife and five children because he could no longer bear to watch them starving. Americana star Alison Brown joins in on five-string banjo. The Irish Americana vibe continues in Doolin’s cover of Steve Earle’s song Galway Girl, for which they are again joined by Alison Brown’s banjo. My favourite tracks on the CD are those in which Doolin’ show their French musical roots. Le Jupon Blanc is a French makeover of the Irish jig The White Petticoat, with a beguiling Parisian café-jazz result, complete with accordeon and acoustic bass. Jacques Brel’s Amsterdam is the highlight of the album, with a richly-textured, emotional, evocative French vocal from Wilfried Besse, and a haunting Irish counter-tune (by John Doyle) giving an intriguing Irish wash to the great Belgian maestro’s famous tribute to Amsterdam.
Doolin’ enter their second decade this year, pushing for a wider audience with their first release on Compass Records. Formed in Toulouse in 2005, the six-piece outfit lay claim to be being “France’s premier Celtic Band”, and their eponymous fifth album is an altogether eclectic proposition. It’s a smorgasbord of influences from bluegrass to French chanson (via a yearning cover of Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam”) to Parisian hip-hop. Their cover of Sinead O’Connor’s “Famine” blends rap, lightning fiddle playing and percussive guitar from guest John Doyle. Covers of Steave Earle’s “The Galway Girl” (enlivened by Alison Brown’s virtuoso banjo) and Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” (featuring Kenny Malone’s percussion) both take advantage of the album’s Tennessee recording to addtangy, tart colours to their authentically Irish sound. Elsewhere, traditional reels “The Road to Gleanntan” and “Reel Africa” are dispatched with verve and feeling, while “Mary’s Jigs” is richly realised by fiddler Guilhem Cavaillé and Fournel siblings Jacob (flute) and Josselin (bodhran). The polka-like “Sailing Across the Ocean” is a fresh, forward-moving song with no traces of a French accent in Wilfried Besse’s vocals. Well worth investigating.
Received an interesting new cd from Compass Records and was pleased to see them taking the chance to release new music. This one is a gem, but I knew that it would be as soon as I saw that it was produced by John Doyle, the boy is a wizard at the production. He also plays on the recording as a guest artist, as do Alison Brown, Michael McGoldrick and a host of other fine artists. I’m afraid I’m putting the cart before the horse here, since I haven’t mentioned the band, they’re called Doolin’, as is their cdDon and they’re from France. A finer gift hasn’t come from France since the Statue of Liberty was delivered. They sing in English and in French and sing beautifully I should add. Their musicianship is nothing to sneer at as well, strong guitar and wicked whistle compliment unique fiddle, bass and accordion. Love the blend and spent the first couple of listens with the extensive liner notes in my hand for quick reference. Superb recording quality to top it all off, thanks to Compass’ expert crew, makes this one memorable recording that has impressed everyone that has heard it so far. Now to get these guys touring in this area.
Irish American News
French bands playing Irish music have been part of the musical scenario in Europe since the early 1970s. The recorded music of outfits such as Gwendal, Taxi Mauve, Shamrock, Dirty Linen and Time To Time have accounted for the many bands one has not encountered recordings of to date. Now comes the latest French Celtic outfit, the Toulouse based Doolin.
A sextet comprised of accordionist Willfred Besse, Nicolas Besse on guitar, bassist Sebastian Saunié, Jacob Fournel on tin whistle and Josselin Fournel on bodhrán, they signed to Compass Records and recorded this album in Nashville. Some serious musical heavyweights are involved, including producer John Doyle and also guest contributions from Gary West, Alison Brown, Jerry Douglas, Mike McGoldrick and Kenny Malone, to name a few. It’s a serious cast but the ever present wonder if the special guests will outshine the main act doesn’t enter the game here – apart from some dazzling dobro work from Jerry Douglas and Alison Brown’s fumbling banjo, both strategically placed, this is very much Doolin’s showcase.
This is a solid band instrumentally; somewhere between Lunasa and Capercaillie with an odd twist into Stocktons Wing territory. This togetherness is evident in Mary’s Jigs where the Capercaillie/Stocktons Wing comparisons are obvious, with tightly disciplined instrumentation, and both Reel Africa and The Road To Gleanntan spark when required. There are songs from many sources as diverse as Bob Dylan, Sinead O’Connor, Steve Earle and Jaques Brel. Their own material proves strong and, in the case of Sailing Across The Ocean and Chanson pour John, both are compulsively attractive and fit within the great famine canon. Their treatment of Jaques Brel’s dramatic Amsterdam conjures images of decadence, packed seaport bars and Gauloise, while Steve Earle’s Galway Girl retains its Americana/Irish crossover and the closing Famine, with guest rappers and frantic hip hop/Celtic rhythms, emphasises the musical crosspollination which seeps through the album. Doolin is an intriguing, eclectic and accomplished outfit, as is this album – hear it ASAP.
The Living Tradition