It was during a recent review of the new album by Sean Burns and LOST COUNTRY that I posed the question, “If modern country is no longer country, and alt-country is the new country, then where can I possibly find new ‘old’ country?” And of course, Sean’s new album checked all of the boxes to meet such requirements, and proved to be a refreshing take on the pure country sound of yesteryear. So imagine my delight when I recently encountered the latest “Having A Great Time” album from acclaimed Nova Scotia songwriter and performer Ryan Cook. Described as an artist who performs original country music to largely non-country audiences, it only took one drive home listening to the new material for me to fully endorse such a statement.
With this, his fourth full studio release, Ryan has once again delivered his unique brand of country music that will appeal to those who have always embraced his pure sound laced with satirical lyrics and content. Recorded at the famous New Scotland Yard Studios in Dartmouth, NS, the album naturally boasts both top notch production quality and a fantastic ensemble of musicians to accompany Ryan across twelve new tracks. Having played both the new album and (for comparison) his 2006 “Sunny Acres” album over the last few days, Ryan has not strayed from his signature sound. The old time country music is as appealing as ever, yet the lyrics and subject material are fresh and provide the link to the modern day; offering similarities to the earlier works of Brad Paisley, as least for me.
I can certainly understand the appeal of this brand of country to a non-country audience. Ryan openly demonstrates his charisma through both the music and his humor as found in the tongue-in-cheek lyrics; tracks such as “Margaritas And Muscle Relaxers,” “Mid-Morning Cry” and the first single, “Cult Of My Own.” Per the official press release, “Cult Of My Own is light and bouncy, featuring some tasteful lap steel licks and a hooky melody that’s sure to inspire sing-alongs.” Yet even with that lap steel and added violin during an instrumental break, it is Cook’s lyrics here that grab your attention: “No yearly, monthly fees / just a minimum cost of being free / in a cult, a cult of my own / no logos, no CEOs / we grow our own pigs, sew our own clothes / in a cult, a cult of my own.”
The humor remains consistent, with an almost-ode to true love (“Memory Foam”) and a happy, if somewhat temporary, displacement (“Snowbird”). Country purists are not going to find corny lyrics and cliché’s here, but those who care to listen will find wonderful ditties about relationships, race, and even video gaming. Returning to the press release, “The record explores the light and dark side of Cook’s fondness for snowbirding in the sunshine states, and is ripe with fiddles, Hawaiian guitars, synths, and layered multi-part harmonies, uniting the swagger of early country and folk pioneers with Cook’s keen ear for catchy modern melodies”. Yet amidst the tongue-in-cheek nature of “Having A Great Time,” Ryan demonstrates that he has a serious side too. With his cover of the Harry Nilsson hit, “Everybody’s Talkin’,” Ryan clearly appreciates the very essence of this timeless tune, yet manages to blend in that trademark Hawaiian flavor to add his signature to the song, whilst remaining true to its roots.
Ryan Cook has once again crafted a fine collection of songs that may appear light-hearted on the surface, but once you look beyond the satire and delve deeper between the lines, you are rewarded with an incredibly fulfilling perspective on matters surrounding life, love, and isolation. “Having A Great Time” is highly recommended for all – yes, even the old-country purists out there really ought to give this one a whirl.