John Doan,
Eire: Isle of the Saints
(Hearts of Space Records, 1997)

John Doan calls this collection of tunes inspired by his journey to Ireland "A Celtic Odyssey," and odyssey it is. Doan took a personal pilgrimage to Ireland, following in the footsteps of three of his most-revered Irish icons: St. Patrick, Yeats and O'Carolan. Doan's work began with chronicles of his travels, written on the trip, and ended with a year of passionate study and creativity, which led to the composition of the tunes on this lush recording. Doan's tunes are ethereal at times, wistful at others, but seem to capture the essence of the Irish landscape. His artful music is captured on his harp-guitar, along with a host of other musicians, including Billy Oskay on keyboards and violin, Eric Rigler on bagpipes, Jim Chapman on whistle, and Maureen Love on concert harp.

So just what is a harp-guitar? It is a 20-string instrument, shaped much like a guitar, but with an extended second neck, stretching above the main neck of the instrument. This second neck holds seven unfretted bass strings, which are plucked like those of a harp. The six central strings are fretted on the standard guitar neck, and are frequently strummed like on a standard guitar. There are also eight unfretted treble strings below these "guitar" strings, which are also plucked. Doan's guitar was made by John Sullivan with Jeffrey Elliott in Portland, Oregon in 1986. Although this instrument may seem new, it has a history over a century old. It is based on the poliphont, which was a popular instrument in the time of Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century.

For those interested in unusual historical instruments, or a "new" variation on the harp, this is well worth exploring!

Doan's recording comes with a beautifully illustrated booklet chronicling his journeys through Ireland, and the inspiration for his music. Paired with each travelogue is a historical text or marker to help the listener relate the music to the past. Although the music does not sound at all ancient, but rather has a newage sound to it, the historical roots and captivating melodies make this well worth investigating.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

Buy Eire: Isle of the Saints from