The career of Paul Brady — whose 12th solo album, the exuberantly titled Hooba Dooba, gets its U.S. release on May 24, 2011 via Proper American — is not that of your usual singer/songwriter. And the new record is the most wildly eclectic this man for all seasons has yet recorded. “I’m a marketing department’s nightmare,” he jokes, before discussing the confusion that has surrounded him for so long.
“I don’t really fit any of the recognized models for artists,” he acknowledges. “That has to do with my musical background, the variety of my tastes and the fact that I’ve jumped from place to place in my career. But at the same time, I’ve never found a compelling reason to narrow my perspective on the music I love by making a record that is only a small bit of what I am. I love big, romantic ballads, screamin’ blues songs, folk songs, country tunes. All these things have been hard to put into one box and say what it is, and I suppose I’ve suffered from that to a degree. But that’s what I am, and my fans are into me because of that — they’re the kind of people who resist marketing strategies, who like to discover things themselves. They respond to the sound of a voice, which says something to them on a subliminal level emotionally, rather than falling for some image.”
In 1963, five years after picking up his first guitar at age 11 and playing along with Shadows and Ventures records, the young Irishman snagged his first paying gig tinkling the ivories in a Donegal hotel, marking the beginning of 48 uninterrupted years of making music — all kinds of music. Like so many of his contemporaries on that side of the pond, he spent a chunk of the ’60s cranking up the volume in R&B bands before making a radical shift into Irish folk music, working with the Johnstons and Planxty, in collaboration with Andy Irvine and on his own, interpreting traditional songs. In the late ’70s, now married and with two kids on the way, he dedicated himself to writing his own material, inspired in part by the music of Gerry Rafferty, another folk artist who’d remade himself as an eloquent singer/songwriter. Hard Station, Brady’s 1981 solo debut album, containing the first fruit of his labors, returned him to the realm of rock and pop, and he scored his first big cover a year later when Hard Station’s “Night Hunting Time” wound up on Santana’s million-selling Shango, to its author’s surprise and delight.
Brady spent the next two decades leading a double life as a recording artist making a sustained effort to get on the radar and a much-covered songwriter, a number of his songs made famous by singers far better known than himself. These included such high-profile covers as Bonnie Raitt’s memorable, multiple-Grammy-winning rendition of “Luck of the Draw” (1991) and Brooks & Dunn’s chart-topping country single “The Long Goodbye” (2001). Around the turn of the century, the multitalented veteran once again reinvented himself, this time as a self-contained, truly independent artist. Since this latest metamorphosis, he’s been touring constantly in small-group settings on both sides of the Atlantic and making records whenever he felt inspired to do so. Which brings us back full circle to Hooba Dooba, its multiple facets glinting like an uncut diamond nestled in a field of shamrocks.
Brady describes “The Winners’ Ball,” propelled by a springy, soulful groove, as “a tongue-and-cheek look at the excesses of the modern end of music,” while “Rainbow” is a lush, widescreen ballad that begs for a country cover, though Brady insists that it’s closer to Memphis than Nashville. “The Price of Fame” builds to a string-laden crescendo in the grand manner of vintage Elton John, and the following “One More Today” sounds like some just-discovered Tin Pan Alley standard.
The album’s most dramatic segue takes the listener from the earthy, rollicking “Follow That Star” to the heart-wrenching “Mother and Son.” “I do like slapping people in the face, figuratively, with an emotional change,” Brady explains. “‘Follow That Star’ comes out of a genre that I have always loved, raw, acoustic blues — anything from Lead Belly to Mississippi John Hurt to ’60s British blues of Winwood, Beck and Clapton. ‘Mother and Son’ is a song about my relationship with my mother. It’s a song that I was trying to write for many years, but only managed to finish it after she passed on.”
The album also contains his first-ever recording of “Luck of the Draw,” the only song here not of recent vintage — apart, that is, from its lone non-original, a sublime, irresistible rendering of “You Won’t See Me” from Rubber Soul. “I wrote ‘Luck of the Draw’ when I was making the Trick or Treat album in L.A. back in 1990, and that’s when Bonnie Raitt picked up on it. I’d always wanted to record it because I had a very different take from the way Bonnie did it, but I decided to leave it alone for a respectable amount of time after hers was current. That was a long time ago, obviously, and it seemed like the right time to do it.” Good move — Brady’s take is so unlike Raitt’s familiar one as to be virtually unrecognizable, providing the song with an edgy, vital second life.
When asked why he decided to title the album Hooba Dooba, Brady replies, “It’s a phrase I’ve used many times in situations when something takes me by surprise that’s pleasurable. In this case, I was in the art department with the designer who was working on the cover looking through various ideas, and when he showed me the image that eventually became the cover, I looked at it and went, “Hooba dooba.” He said, ‘Is that the album title?’ and when I told him no, he said, ‘Well it should be.’ And I decided he was right. Nothing more profound than that.”
Given Brady’s back story, it’s hard to say whether Hooba Dooba — which features guests Jerry Douglas on lap steel and Sarah Siskind on backing vocals — will clear up the confusion about just who this multifaceted guy is or add to it, but one thing’s for sure: this record is a dead-honest picture of a one-of-a-kind artist who has always been absolutely true to himself.
“I’ve been in this business over 40 years, and I’m a survivor,” says Brady with unconcealed pride. “I’ve been through plenty of ups and downs, and I know what the business is. I have a broad enough base in terms of my activities to have survived for this long and to still be enjoying what I’m doing. Anything above and beyond that is icing on the cake.” He pauses for a moment, his face lighting up in a smile. “And the cake is okay.”