I first discovered the Aoife Doyle Band[ht in the summer of 2015 while working for a few days in Dublin. Always one to stray from the beaten path, I product-placement searched “theatre” and “music” listings in the surrounding area and stumbled upon a tour of their first album This Time the Dream’s on Me at the Mill Theatre in Dundrum.
From the moment Andrew Csibi playfully plucked the strings of his double bass during the opening bars of Mick Ralph’s Oh, Atlanta and Aoife Doyle’s understated but assured vocals emanated from the stage I was in sync with the lyrics: “Same old place / Same old city / What can I do? / I’m falling love”.
What followed was a variety of jazz, blues, folk, country and gospel covers ranging from a poignant version of Bob Dylan’s Farewell, Angelina made famous by Joan Baez to a scat-tastic rendition of Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons’ standard All of Me which has been recorded by the world and his (or her) wife.
But to say “covers” does not do Aoife and her fine trio of musicians (Johnny Taylor on piano, Dominic Mullan on drums and the aforementioned Andrew Csibi on double bass who are joined on a couple of tracks by Michael Buckley on saxophone) justice for like most of the great performers on the UK jazz and blues scene such as Liane Carroll and Barb Jungr, they re-interpret classics and make them her own.
Which brings me to their follow-up album Clouds, released almost two years to the day since their first, which marks a departure from the tried and tested with 10 original compositions. All of which hit the mark and sound as though they’ve been doing the rounds for the past couple of decades, while at the same time retaining a freshness which makes them feel current. No mean feat!
Listening to the two albums back to back, several influences (Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday) and comparisons (Eva Cassidy, Jeff Buckley) are obvious. But the singer Aoife reminds me of most is Danish vocalist Cathrine Legardh whose stripped-backed and effortless collaborations with the great Scottish pianist Brian Kellock are, likewise, a masterclass in restraint.
However, as Aoife said during an interview supported by Ireland’s national touring and development agency Music Network, it’s not all about her. “Our sound has developed,” she said, “much more into just one sound. One voice. And we’re much more gelling together as musicians.” Affirmative to all of the above.
From the opening Clouds inspired by a “struggling” friend whom Aoife encouraged to “be patient and hang on in there” to the closing Like A Road Leading Home which offers hope in times of darkness (or, dare I say it, “green shoots” of recovery in times of austerity), this is very much an album of our times.
The lyrical composition of Aoife’s ten self-penned songs are as tight as the band’s arrangements. Johnny Taylor on piano is as inventive as he is sensitive. Drummer Dominic Mullan is as light as the morning dew. And the hypnotic pulse of Andrew Csibi’s double base is as gentle and reassuring as waves upon a beach. To quote from the title track: “It’s clouds like these that make the prettiest blooms in Spring.”