Ireland was made for country music.
Think about it. Sure, we’re the life of the party on the exterior, but we the people are always looking for the next shoe to drop when things are going a bit too well.
When you look at the Irish papers, things have not been going well lately. The new government is tenuous at best, the country is still billions of euros in debt and enduring austerity measures from a global recession.
It’s enough to make you cry in your pint, and country music is the soundtrack of choice when yer-a-fixin’-to-do just that.
Indeed, the worse things get, the more of a demand there seems to be for country music on the mother soil. “The Irish country music scene is really thriving at the moment,” says Mick Flavin, the (self-proclaimed) king of country music.
“Next year, I will be celebrating 30 years in the business and in that time I have seen many changes. In the past five years so many young artists have come on the scene. They have brought with them a whole young audience. It’s fantastic.”
“I have been involved in the Irish country scene for many years and for us Irish it is a great source of relaxing and fun,” says Midlands 103 radio presenter Joe Cooney (no relation to Andy).
“The dance halls are full most every night with some of the top names as well as so many up and coming male and female country singers. American country came to Ireland through the late Larry Cunningham and the late Gene Stuart back in the sixties and it has grown so much since then.”
The timing is right, then, for Irish America’s favorite son, Andy Cooney, to release Irish Country Skyline, which nicely cross-pollinates the best fiddling on either side of the Atlantic.
“On the eighth day, God created music/when your spirits are down/take a look around/listen to the good Lord’s melody,” Cooney asserts on the album opener. The song “On the Eighth Day” received rapturous reception in Ireland last summer, inspiring homemade YouTube videos and regular airplay on country music playlists.
“I revisited some of the songs I wrote in Nashville back in the early 1990s and brought them up to date, in particularly that song,” Cooney explains.
“I wrote that with a writer named John Alexander, who I met through Larry Gatlin. Back in October 2014, my drummer Jimmy Kelly, who has been writing songs in Nashville for several years, took a liking to ‘On the Eighth Day and added some great lines that really brought it home.”
Cooney has been working with the likes of Crystal Gayle through the years and is no stranger to Nashville. He took that expertise over to Ireland, where he capitalized on the renewed interest in country music by enlisting the top players there.
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“This was an opportunity to bring together my two favorite types of music together, country and Irish music,” he says about his first new collection since his highly successful collaboration with the legendary Phil Coulter on his last album and tour. “Whenever I record, I always go where the musicians are. In this case, Ireland was the place and Jonathan Owens was the man to produce it. Jonathan has produced all the biggest records on the country and Irish scene. I wanted the very best.”
“There’s an Irish country skyline/rolling so peaceful in my mind/these city streets and neon lights just leave me aching for the sights of an Irish country skyline,” Cooney sings on the title track and with that, he so perfectly encapsulates the feelings we Yanks get when we make a return visit to the farm of our family’s birthplace.
Cooney sprinkles a little nostalgia in more ways than one in Irish Country Skyline.
“While I was in Ireland, I re-recorded a song I wrote in the late 1990s, ‘My Rose of Ballinrobe,’ that previously appeared on the Galway Show album I did for Rego Records in 2001,” he says.
“It was a very Irish-y version produced by Joanie Madden. I decided that I’d like to put a two step dance beat to it and country and Irish radio took a liking to it as well. Every song I recorded has its own story which is why this album is so special to me.”
Nowadays, there are more colors of country music than a wall full of paint swatches at your local hardware store. You’ve got your bubblegum bluegrass from the likes of Taylor Swift, the wounded and angry trailer park scorned soul of Miranda Lambert, and the “ready-for-my-pickup-truck-commercial-close-up” okie studs like Dierks Bentley and Luke Bryan to choose from.
Cooney’s color is green to be sure, and hearkens back to those days when Irish showbands walked the earth with wall-to-wall polka that torched dance halls across the Irish countryside back in the day.
“How Ya Keepin’” is a new track of Cooney’s that would be perfectly at home in the setlist of the Gerry Cahill Dance Band or the Capri Four. Yes, Cooney’s fast numbers might sound like two-steppers but don’t be fooled: there are polkas lurking under that 10 gallon hat of his and that is flammable stuff indeed!
The polka might be a beat to the rest of the globe but to the Irish, it is “the rhythm method” back in the fifties that still does the trick to work up flirtatious froth between two consenting adults of a certain advanced age today. These are the same people that flock to Cooney’s cruises and festival appearances, and there is no doubt they will eat Irish Country Skyline up like the raisins embedded in the golden crust of a well-baked soda bread.
As with Cooney’s last album, listeners of a certain younger demographic might take the disc for a spin, appreciate the honey-stung voice and obvious talents of this master showman, and wonder what could have been if the artist might have mixed in some bubblegum bluegrass, pink or other contemporary colors into his musical palette. Cooney might want to download a copy of Ryan Adams’ 1989, his brilliant reinterpretation of Swift’s album of the same name, for a blueprint on how to leverage modern melodies without compromising your sound and artistic soul for a future foray into country.
A nice guy like Andy Cooney getting into a bar fight right before covering Blake Shelton’s bad boy “Boys ‘Round Here” anthem? C’mon! Who wouldn’t want to listen to that?
Irish Country Skyline is set for release on May 29 at the East Durham Irish Festival and June 5 at the Boston Irish Festival. It’s available at your local Irish import store, and through AndyCooney.com.