CATHRYN CRAIG & BRIAN WILLOUGHBY – The Cooley & Mourne   (Cabritunes CAB010)

The Cooley & MourneI should begin by saying that The Cooley & Mourne is, for me, the best album that Cathryn and Brian have made to date. The blend of Carthryn’s southern US roots and Brian’s Irish heritage gels perfectly into an album that makes for absolutely delightful listening.

The couple live in what Brian describes as “a beautiful area” on the Irish border and the opening track, ‘County Down’, expresses their joy in their situation. It is decorated by Dermot McQuaid’s whistle and slyly references the traditional ballad ‘The Star Of The County Down’. The album was recorded at Narrow Water Studio in the castle of the same name on the banks of the Newry River. The location also inspired the four acoustic instrumental interludes Brian wrote to divide the songs. The delight in their location is echoed in ‘The Cooley And Mourne’ with the suggestion that Brian had a big hand in the lyrics. ‘On This Ground’ takes these ideas and expands them into a cry of defiance against incomers and speculators who just want to buy up land and property.

So, the album isn’t all bucolic happiness. ‘To The Past’ and ‘Goodbye Old Friend’ suggest distant pain and both feel like Cathryn’s lyrics. I could be wrong, of course. ‘For Martha’ is a bit of a mystery. Is it the story of an itinerant musician or a young street person? ‘Take Me With You’ suggests the former but given Cathryn’s background it could be the tale of a woman trying to hold on to her lover. ‘All The Way To Denver’ is pure country and the band: McQuaid, Fergal Hughes and Paul French are given free rein.

With Cathryn taking all the vocals you really have to hear Craig and Willoughby live to appreciate Brian’s input but even then he mostly sits quietly and just plays his guitar. But his solos and fills are integral to the sound of all their records and I found myself waiting for his contributions time after time. As I said, their best album so far.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘All The Way To Denver’ – live: