After 19 years of producing nine gold or platinum albums and astounding crowds with a ferocious live show that fills clubs, Irish festivals, and hockey arenas across the continent, Great Big Sea’s Alan Doyle has branched out on his own with Boy on Bridge, his first solo album.
“You can’t un-ring a bell/you can’t un-tell a story/you can’t un-break a heart/I’m sorry/if there’s a chance in hell/for a moment’s glory/I’ll be so glad to tell you/I’m sorry,” he pleads on “I’m Sorry,” the album’s opener.
The combination of countrified rock and his earnest, husky vocals on this track and on songs like “Break it Slow” call to mind a younger Jackson Browne.
“It’s not what you got its what you’re looking for/I’ve been over the moon and down on my luck//been down on the bottle and made my way up/I’ve seen a little but isn’t enough,” he sings on “I’ve Seen a Little,” a drive-with-the-top-down kinda ferocious rocker that would fit right in with that Bon Jovi mixed tape you’ve had in the dashboard for just such an occasion.
Doyle’s hometown of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, is a small fishing village at the lip of the open sea. The ocean would bring European settlers into the port, which explains while Great Big Sea’s brand of Irish music was washed with sea salt and many French and Canadian influences.
He was just a teenager when he left home and moved to Newfoundland’s capital, St. John’s. Although he pursued a BA in English and religion at Memorial University, music was his real passion.
Doyle honed his performing skills as a solo artist in the city’s pubs, standing on bar stages, belting out folk songs and the classic rock for the rowdy patrons.
Making your way up from the pubs is much different than making it on a reality show, so Doyle developed the thick skin needed to go with his natural talent.
In 1993, he joined forces with fellow pub warriors Sean McCann, Bob Hallett and Darrell Power, and together they started Great Big Sea, where they fused Newfoundland traditional music with their own pop sensibilities.
In his spare time, Doyle is much in demand as a producer, arranger and general musical catalyst, having produced albums for actor Russell Crowe and Juno Award winners the Irish Descendants, among others, and furnished soundtracks for many movies.
In 2010 he put his matinee idol looks to good use when he joined his friend Crowe as Allan A’Dayle in the Universal blockbuster Robin Hood.
With the release of Boy on Bridge, Doyle enters a new phase of his career. After almost 20 years with great Big Sea he is stepping out on his own.
Doyle has amassed many friends as a producer and performer, and he calls in a bushel of favors that contribute to the making of a breakout classic.
Canadian stars like Colin James, Hawksley Workman and Jim Cuddy are joined by Nashville pros like Troy Verges and Kelly Archer, while long-time collaborator Gordie Sampson helped him write and record some.
Boy on Bridge gave Doyle a chance to finally delve into his love of country music and more classic rock and roll sounds.
Fresh from their success with artists like Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Sampson and Verges helped create the modern country of “I’ve Seen A Little,” while Nashville up-and-comer Ryan Tyndall co-wrote “My Day”.
The blues shouter “Testify” was co-written by Crowe, and then recorded with guitar hero Colin James in Vancouver.
“The chaplain says the end has started/your judgment has begun/prayers can lead to God’s forgiveness for all the foolish things you’ve done/I hope and pray I never get what I deserve,” he sings on “Testify,” a ZZ
Top-like bluesy smoker that also deserves an airing in that convertible of yours.
Just when you think Doyle chucked the Irish fiddling made famous by his old band, he whips out a southern fried rocker, “Somewhere in the Love We Made,” a track that brings the fiddle and banjo together to produce a sweet ending to the album.
“It’s part travelogue, part solo record,” Doyle told the Canadian press of the 13-song album that stemmed from a desire to simply “work with friends with no goal in mind. Just go and live in their music environments, basically doing it their way and seeing what came out the other side. And something always came.”
That playful vibe that flirts with danger on every corner is what makes Boy on Bridge such a joy to hear.
Doyle will be at City Winery (155 Varick Street, New York) on June 3 and World Cafe Live in Philadelphia on June 6. Check out www.alandoyle.ca for more information.