“You better be nice to him or else.”
So came the commandment from both my mother and the mother of a friend of mine when I informed them that I was reviewing and interviewing Andy Cooney this week.
The wrath of an Irish mammy is a formidable one, and I was told in no uncertain terms to watch my Ps and Qs when writing about the favorite son of Irish Americana.
Luckily for Andy — and for me — I really like his newest disc, Bright Brand New Day.
This album is a long time in coming, according to Cooney. He had a dream of working with the legendary songwriter and producer Phil Coulter back in the nineties but fate had different plans.
“I was with Rego Records at the time and I originally wanted to record ‘The Town I Loved So Well’ with Phil,” Cooney explains.
“I had played the song during a fundraiser he had attended and he said it was one of the best versions he had ever heard. I asked if he’d entertain me recording it with him and he said he would. We started to put a budget together to do it and halfway through we lost our funding. The recording just sat there all these years.”
Cooney would run into his old friend Coulter in Irish music circles over the years, and they would hug goodbye with the promise of one day finishing their long-dormant album. When an opening in Coulter’s calendar presented itself Cooney jumped at the chance to get down to business.
“It didn’t need all that much touching up,” Cooney reports. “We doctored some things up, added some strings and we got to the level where it all flowed.
“We ended up finishing it up with the same studio and the same piano that was played 20 years ago. Phil wrote a few songs on the album, I wrote some, and we wrote some together.”
Whatever tinkering they did in the studio paid off, for Bright Brand New Day is a seamless production that sounds like it was all recorded yesterday. Cooney’s pleasing tenor wraps around Coulter’s gold-dusted piano melodies and arrangements like a scarf around the throat on a cold winter’s night in Manhattan.
“The Town I Loved So Well” hasn’t lost an ounce of its tear-jerking potency, while the wistful “Gold and Silver Days” is delivered flawlessly. “Remember Me Recuerdame,” the ultra-romantic Coulter composition from the Celtic Tenors and Celtic Thunder production, finds Cooney stretching to new heights artistically.
As usual, Coulter’s pristine production brings the best in any singer he works with, and on Bright Brand New Day he coaxes a spine-tingling performance from Cooney.
“There’s a bright new day that’s coming/step out of the darkness and stand here in the light/may all your dreams take flight/sing it loud sing it clear/sing it sing it so the world can hear/it’s a bright, brand new day,” Cooney sings on the title track, a newly written tune that carries equal measures of sadness and hope just like most of the other memorable compositions in Coulter’s canon.
“Most of my fans are Phil Coulter’s fans. It is a similar demographic,” Cooney says when asked what his fan club will think of the new CD.
“So, they’re going to love it. His writing — what can I say — it’s just beautiful. I just love singing his stuff. You can really get into these great melodies as a singer which is a huge rush.”
Cooney was thrilled to learn from such a master and was struck by his infectious enthusiasm.
“He’s a very youthful guy for 72 and is still interested in discovering and making music, which is refreshing,” Cooney says.
“That said, he also knows the job at hand and he doesn’t mess around. I’ve worked with Crystal Gale and Larry Gatlin and there’s this genuine quality to them that Coulter also has. They don’t think they’re better than you just because of their success because they remember what it’s like to come up themselves.
‘They appreciate a musician’s struggle and honor you for doing your best regardless of your success level. Frank Patterson was the same way. “
Once they started working they couldn’t stop themselves, and the duo found themselves swapping ideas across the Atlantic.
“I sang my idea on my iPhone and emailed it over to him. He put his ideas on it, and then he would email it over to me. That’s the way it goes nowawdays with technology,” Cooney says.
“Nothing beats getting in the studio, which we had to do as well. But technology allows you to get it together sooner. He’s one of the greatest songwriters and I learned so much being around him.”
Cooney has worked with so many musical veterans over his long career that he has become one himself. One of nine children born into a deep-rooted Irish American family from Long Island, Cooney has been singing Irish songs from an early age at family and church gatherings.
His professional career began at the young age of 17, when he began appearing in many of the well-known Irish establishments in the New York area entertaining audiences with his piano playing and singing.
He caught the eye of the legendary Paddy Noonan in 1986, when Cooney was the tender age of 19. Noonan asked him to tour and Cooney learned at the feet of a master bandleader and entertainer.
Like Noonan, Cooney has a knack for packaging talent. You can find him in the mountains of the Catskills and on the high seas for his sold-out cruises, where he gathers around him the finest group of musicians that includes Ronan Tynan and Cherish the Ladies.
He struck gold recently with his latest production, the New York Tenors, which pairs Cooney with Daniel Rodriguez and Michael Amante.
In fact, as I type this, Cooney is on the high seas and cruising with around 900 of his closest friends. These cruises have swelled in size in recent years, something Cooney is very proud of.
“It all started years ago when I did these cruises with Paddy Noonan,” he recalls. “As years went by, I had a vision of being bigger — multiple entertainers with thousands of people on the cruise instead of hundreds.
“I try to assemble different people so that it appeals to all Irish music. I asked Ronan Tynan to do it and he’s been with us ever since. It’s been a great opportunity to work with Frankie Gavin and Sean Keane. These people would never be folks I’d work with. We have impromptu jams. We’ve brought as many as 1,700 people.
“Next year we’re bringing Mike Denver and Patrick Feeney, who will represent Irish country music. They are the hottest Irish country acts in Ireland right now.”
Cooney will be taking Bright Brand New Day on the road, from Gavin’s in the Catskills to the Florida Panhandle this spring. Visit www.andycooney.com.
So...are ya happy now, Mom?