This is not the kind of CD that I normally would have come across, but it is really pretty good. Coolhouse is not a high budget release, and therefore it sounds like Hickey has been able to record exactly what he wanted, without any record company interferences. The music we hear is honest...it is not 'try hard' and there are no alternative agendas.
All of the songs (12 of them) were written by Hickey, who has played with various outfits in his time - from Chessnut in the 70s, to The Alsations in the 80s, and others including Keep The Faith and The Critters. Coolhouse is his second solo album, after his 2002 debut with Cheap Cabaret. It was recorded in Hollywood...erm, that's County Wicklow folks! Yep, this is Irish music through and through; yet it is not just that, there are many other influences to be heard here.
The opening, and title, track, Coolhouse, is a sultry number about hot nights and cold beer. The vocal here reminds of Chris Rea or Joe Cocker, and there is even a chorus akin to Lou Reed's "coloured girls"...except here it is "la la lah", as opposed to "do do doo"! Those backing vocals come courtesy of Sue Jefferson and Lou Holden of Choral Sex, and work nicely with Hickey's voice, however can sometimes be a bit distracting, and could have done with being a little quieter in relation to Hickey's lead vocals. This is not a big criticism however and, all in all, this is a great opener and a track that you will want to hear again.
Second track And When I Walk is completely different in tone. A simple song (promising "no more funny stuff"), this has even more "la la lahs" and you begin to really hear Hickey's Irish twang.
Third is, for me, the stand-out track of the album, and is called Heuston Station. This is no Homeward Bound but, written at a station, this is the most obvious song to compare it to...well, except for the Littlest Hobo theme tune (which, laugh if you like, I love!), due to the lyrics "I'm not searchin'/I'm just wandering on".
My Love and Me is a lovely song about, surprisingly, love. The sentiments here are sweet, no frills and affectionate. By this, track 4, things are beginning to sound more Irish, musically-speaking...a little bit Saw Doctors, a certain hue of Shane McGowan (although, despite singing about beer on his opening track, Hickey does not sound like he's put quite as much moonshine away as McGowan!).
Straying into slightly political territory is track 5, In God We Trust, which Paul tells us a little about on his website,
"In 1986 there was a divorce referendum in Ireland that was defeated by religious power. I felt so angry, at the time, and I wrote this song about the hyprocrisy of the whole event."
A refreshing angle, then, from a country so veined with religion.
Jimmy Cliff comes to town on next track Watch Out Love. The reggae-lite backing here reminds me of Cliff's song Vietnam and has me bobbing my head along each time it comes around.
I can imagine that this album sells very well at gigs as, from what is recorded here, it sounds like Hickey would be good live. As I said before, this is honest music with no pretences. The playing is also very capable and, I can't think of a better way to put it but, I think the atmosphere at a Paul Hickey gig would be a good, happy, friendly one.
There are six further tracks that I haven't discussed, but I think that I have rambled on enough for now! Suffice to say that they are all, also, very listenable and, although this is not the usual kind of music I have been listening to recently, I've played this album a good few times.
The full track listing for Coolhouse is:
02. And When I Walk
03. Heuston Station
04. My Love and Me
05. In God We Trust
06. Watch Out Love
08. If I Could Sail That Ocean Again
09. Teach Me To Fly
10. Live Before You Die
11. Revolution On Their Minds
12. See You Again