Andy Cooney,
Galway Shawl
(Rego, 2002)

My first exposure to Any Cooney has made me want to hear lots more. He's an excellent performer, and his delivery and diction are a joy to witness. On Galway Shawl, he combines some new songs with old and gives a fantastic new life to some of the songs of Ireland that have suffered greatly by over-sentimental renditions.

"The Galway Shawl" is a song we've heard so much at weddings and in pubs in our youth that it earned our contempt for the overly familiar. Cooney has rehabilitated this song with a simple but very well-produced version. It is sad to recall how many things we throw away when they become too well known. On this version I hear the poetry of this song as it tells a very real and sad story.

Mick Hanley is a singer-songwriter who deserves a much wider audience. Cooney gives us a great version of his song "The Way Dreams Are." "I could almost feel your breath I was that close to you" is the opening line of a song of unrequited love that can touch all but the coldest heart. "I got that far, 'cos that's the way dreams are."

"The Rattlin' Bog" is one of those songs of childhood that we so often wish to forget, but when Cooney revives it on this CD we relive a past and hear the words anew, even if they are part of a sort of nonsense song. Other traditional songs getting a well-deserved new life on this CD are "My Lovely Rose of Clare," "Shamrock Shore" and one of my favourites on the album, "Maggie." (It is listed as traditional, but as "Nora" was written by Sean O'Casey for one of his plays.)

Thomas Moore and Percy French are Irish writers of another era whose witty and beautiful lyrics are so often neglected. I would love to hear Cooney perform albums of their songs if his versions of "Endearing Young Charms" and "Come Back Paddy Reilly" are anything to go by.

But this is not a CD of revivals. There are new songs here that will be the standard Irish songs of the 21st century. Even lyrics like "go sell your pig and cow a gra (a gra = my love)" sound so much better when sung here and with such high production values. "Daughter of Mine," written by Madeline Thomson, is one that will be popularized through weddings as the dance tune for the bride and her father. It is sentimental but then most of our best songs always are -- "you may leave my arms but never my heart."

Cooney shows that he can pen a good song with "My Rose of Ballinrobe." This is the sort of gem I love to find. It is little wonder, when we read the notes, that Cooney has been encouraged by the like of Phil Coulter and served an apprenticeship in Nashville working with stars like Larry Gatlin and the Statler Brothers, and that quality backing comes from the likes of Joannie Madden of Cherish the Ladies.

My one slight criticism of this CD must be the packaging. The insert and words are excellent but the title and wearing an Aran sweater is not a good way to catch notice. It may attract the sentimental Irish American, but it will put off the millions of younger listeners who deserve to hear this Irish music given a new vitality.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 18 January 2003

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