During the height of the Celtic Tiger dynasty, Jimmy Crowley found himself single and with a Green Card courtesy of the U.S Government in his back pocket. Having released his acclaimed album The Coast of Malibar, it seemed that what remained of the fraternity of the folk scene was no longer healthy enough to sustain an artist whose spirit was spun from the gregarious loom of the folk revival. Ireland was changing fast but not the way Jimmy Crowley wanted it to change. He became an middle-aged emigrant settling in the, beautiful old town of Dunedin, near Clearwater in Florida. It was a good move from a creative standpoint as new songs began to simmer bearing a diverse concoction of contemporary plasma from his life in retrospect and from the American experience; songs that will shortly find a home on his next album, Life.
Regular forays to New York to team up with seminal figures like Mick Moloney shaped his American experience, honing and revising hitherto closed concepts of musical forms through an ethnic journey of re-discovery. He was searching for a fresh musical pasture and America seemed to be a place where you could think in an untrammeled fashion at a safe remove from the Irish context. Jimmy struck up a friendship with Mississippi folk musicians Valerie Plested and Don Penzien and another dissident Corkman, singer and actor Máirtín de Cógáin. As Captain Mackey’s Goatskin and Stringband, they played all the major American festivals including Kansas City Irish Fest, Milwaukee, Boston “Icons” festival, Jackson Celtic Festival, N.E Louisiana Celtic Fest and North Texas Irish Festival. The highways and skies of America were well used to the ceaseless meanderings of the Corkman as he plied his profession in his adopted country. In their debut album, Soldiers’ Songs, Captain Mackey’s Goatskin and Stringband tapped in to the power of the ballad as a social document, explored the fortunes and misfortunes of Irish soldiers, caught in the tragedy of the war theatres of history. Free from the delightful distractions of Ireland, Jimmy finally finished his major ethnographic work, Songs from the Beautiful City, being the first collection of Cork Urban ballads embracing the universal precept of his friend, the late Frank Harte, who deposed that, ”history is written by the victors while the ballads are written by the people.”
This fruitful Tropical exile also teamed Jimmy with influential Californian mandolin player Marla Fibish. Together they recorded The Morning Star, an instrumental album that exclusively staged the double-strung mandolin family instruments like bouzouki, mando-cello, mandolin, mandola and dordán, exploring their interesting if recent role in Irish music.
Influenced by the sizzling potpourri of American music; from Brazilian Bossa Nova, through jazz standards, Motown, Old Tymey, Outlaw country music to Texas Swing, Crowley was beginning to forge a resolution to a musical dilemma that haunted him. With the exciting extension that America brought to his voice, Jimmy began to experiment with the nostalgic parlour songs of Ireland and Irish America; songs that had been side-lined by the folk revival: the songs of Percy French, Thomas Moore, John McCormac, Delia Murphy, the Flanaghan Brothers, Charlie McGee, Bing Crosby and Joe Lynch. “The songs our fathers loved,” as the legendary Leo Maguire described these effusions on the famous Waltons’ Sponsored Radio Show.
But Crowley wanted to sing these songs not in the dinner-jacket formulaic style of the classic Irish tenor nor yet in the unconvincing pecuniary whine of the Showbander; but rather in the relaxed way his hero Willie Nelson did the American standards on his Stardust album. Jimmy wanted to add the jazz chords suffused with caressing French accordion with the keening lap-steel and the Django inspired guitar and make it all come out right.
A chance encounter with Australian jazz guitarist Ian Date brought Jimmy’s concept nearer to fruition. With Ian and his brother Roger on guitars,Ger Harrington on double bass and his old friend and colleague Pat McNamara from East Clare on accordion he found the nucleus of his new band. They recorded Irish Eyes at Donagh Long’s Spain Studios near Baltimore in West Cork. Among lesser known love songs, Crowley breathes an uncommon freshness into jaded classics like Danny Boy, When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Who Put the Overalls in Mrs Murphy’s Chowder and The Isle of Innisfree from the movie, The Quiet Man. The album is supplemented by guest appearances of Mary Black, Tony Davis, John Fitzgerald and Clive Barnes on lap-steel guitar.
Irish Eyes will be launched in Dublin following with a tour of Ireland featuring The Blue Macushlas, the band that Jimmy has formed for this exciting divergence from his folk repertoire. The Blue Macushlas are Ian Date on guitar, Pat McNamara on accordion, Brian Crowley, Jimmy’s nephew on bass and Jimmy on vocals, folk guitar and bouzouki. Details of launch and tour to be announced soon.
Carol Rice, manager