Guitarist and singer Nigel Mooney (born 1963, Dublin) is one of the best exponents of Southside Chicago-inspired urban Rhythm and Blues around these parts. He’s pretty versatile too, as you might expect with a musician who served his time playing all sorts of musical events, from weddings to birthdays, all around the country.
I once saw Nigel lead his then band, the Hip Operation, in a blues-inflected treatment of the 1798 ballad Boolavogue in a small pub in Enniscorthy. He was accompanying a local singer, and no bother to him. If someone had asked him for The Fields of Athenry - unlikely, given it was a blues festival - he would have served it right up, but it would have been that inimitable Mooney-style treatment.
A genial and indeed modest individual, who began playing guitar at 12, his early influences were people like B.B. King, Albert King and Buddy Guy. Later he entertained the more free-flowing sounds of Charlie Parker and Count Basie. More specifically, in terms of his guitar style, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery and George Benson lent their distinctive colours.
Nigel has indeed been a stalwart of the Dublin jazz and blues scene since the early 1980s. Around that period, he formed the Gripewater Blues Band, who, amongst many other musical exploits, opened for BB King at the National Stadium. The band enjoyed a legendary eight-year residency at JJ Smyths of Aungier Street.
Nigel waited a long time to release his very fine first album, All My Love's In Vain (Rubyworks) in 2005. In there among the track-listing is, right enough, an instrumental version of Boolavogue, a pretty apt choice for a man who now lives in County Wexford.
In the early nineties he met and befriended the legendary Georgie Fame, who sings on two tracks on the brand new album, Down for Double and his own song, How Blue Can You Get. Guitarist Louis Stewart, no less, guests on the first of these.
Using his core band of Johnny Taylor, piano, Dan Bodwell, bass and Dominic Mullen, drums, Mooney builds an elaborate and well-filled sound on his basic structure, with generous helpings of brass, courtesy of the House of Horns.
The sprightly opener, I Ain’t Ready, features Mooney’s, sly self-deprecating lyrics about procrastination and ill-preparedness. By contrast, Unlucky in Love is a plaintive ballad, beautifully interpreted, which Mooney wrote the basic sketch of when he was just 19. Two numbers associated with Ray Charles receive captivating new readings, Ain’t That Love and Hard Times.
A couple of lively, warm instrumentals, The Bohemian Mooney and Bohemian Moondance see Mooney’s guest performers rock the joint with some very impressive solo work. A classic.