By Michael McDonagh
Recently an exceptionally good record entitled Waxwings came into the Irish World office.
It has a lovely big band sound and some similarities to Van Morrison albums, although the voice is more of a rich, mellow crooner.
It’s by an Irish performer who calls himself Jimmy’s Cousin*. The record was accompanied by a lovely handwritten note from which the singer’s excitement and pride were palpable.
IW: What is this whole Jimmy’s Cousin thing?
“I was in music 20 years ago, in my twenties, and was pursuing it then ran away to America when I was 21 or 22.
“Then life takes over and you get hassled by mortgages and relationships and rent and cars and all that jazz – so I moved away from music for a time.
“Then I came back to it about two years ago and started writing properly, having dabbled in it for years.
“The reason I chose Jimmy’s Cousin as the name for the project and my own name was, I suppose that the last time that I was involved in music was in New York, when I was living with my cousin Jimmy.
“The reason it was Jimmy’s Cousin was that I grew up in in Tralee, my brother Paul was 18 months older than me, was handsome, attractive and sporty, and everybody knew him.
“Everywhere I went in Tralee for about five years I was just Paul’s brother, every time I went into a pub or anywhere. It would drive me nuts, so I went off to America and got out of Ireland.
“I thought this would be fantastic, I am going to be my own person not the brother of Paul. I got there, moved in with my cousin Jimmy (Yelverton) and, of course, for the next few years I was known, and introduced, to everybody as Jimmy’s cousin.
“So, when we were doing the album this became a play on identity and the idea of identity and the malleability of identity. Like who are you and what are you in relation to other people and how you are identified by other things and not just in your own context and that very much became the theme of the album.
“It is a classic break up love album, the break-up album to beat all break-up albums actually.”
IW: The album has a very Van Morrison-type sound, don’t you think?
“Ha, well yes that’s true. It was his guitarist, Dave Keary, who produced it, Dave Keary is Van’s guitarist and Van’s bass player Paul Moore plays on it too, with other accomplished musicians.
“You can’t be into music in any serious way and not be aware of what Van is doing as he is so good and always has great musicians in his bands.”
IW: Waxwings is your first record in 20 years?
“The album has only just come out, it was recorded over nine months, it’s very smooth, very produced and very chocolate-y, the live show has much more oomph to it and it really brings the songs to life. I love the album, but it is a very different kind of a beast from the live shows.”
IW: How long have you been back doing music from your other domestic duties?
“About two years ago I started writing. I come from two musical families on both my mum’s side and my father’s, musicians on one side and vocalists on the other, music was always big in our house, the means through which you processed emotion, so if ever there was anything difficult happening in your life we turned to music.”
“One half of the family would have been traditional Irish music, the other half would have been classical singing.
“All my influences would be from my mum, my earliest memories are of my mum singing, crying and singing, whilst doing the ironing, because she got some bad news or something – the way to deal with it was always through music.
“I went through my own marriage breakdown about four or five years ago and so dealing with all the emotions drove me back to pick up the guitar to make sense of it all.
“The emotions and upsets of that drove me to pick up the guitar and to write. I had no intention of doing anything with it, but I knew Dave from an acquaintance in Limerick and a friend of mine had heard some of the demos I was doing, and he said you really need to see Dave Keary, as this needs him.
“So, I did, and he started guiding me and editing, say work on that a bit more, and push that a bit more and try that one out.”
IW: I’m not sure that there is anybody else in Ireland doing this kind of big band jazzy smooth kind of genre?
“No, I can’t think of anybody in Ireland and, as you know, you have to pick for yourself a genre or a label before you get the right people to bang on doors. People say it sounds like somewhere between Van Morrison and Gregory Porter. In the studio, we felt it was like Michael Bublé at one end, and Tom Waits at the other.
“I grew up listening to all the jazz vocalists, so I suppose that influence has been oozing into my psyche for the past 40 years. My first album when I was seven was Neil Diamond. You know what they say: ‘show me where you came in and I’ll show you were you went wrong’.
“It really comes alive when we are on stage – we have a number of festivals in Ireland in the summer and we hope we will get over to the UK, we are really trying to push the boat out now and are planning to do a London showcase, probably be towards the end of May.”
(*Jimmy’s Cousin is Ian Dodson, let’s hope that it’s Ian who gets due credit for this his excellent and well produced first album and that his touring career follows suit.)
Waxwings by Jimmy’s Cousin is out now