Why Ulster crooner Eamonn is a rising star of the country scene

Eamonn McCrystal in full flow on stage
Eamonn McCrystal in full flow on stage

Ulster’s very own Eamon McCrystal, a man with a rich, old school timbre to his voice and a recording artist who combines the style of classic balladry with a pop-accessible approach and just the right amount of country and soul inflections, is set to release his tenth studio album, And So It Goes.

McCrystal, who grew up in Cookstown singing to residents in the old people’s home that his parents ran, was a precocious talent.

He sang on BBC Radio Ulster aged just nine and quickly acquired studio experience 
by recording the first of several independently
 released albums from the age of 12.

McCrystal’s fortunes as a performer began to turn around when he met Elizabeth Travis, then the wife and manager of American country superstar Randy, who saw him perform at a Belfast Music Festival and listened to one of his independently recorded CDs.

The Ulster artist’s first American album, the country-flavored When In Nashville, was released in 2011 and that same year he recorded a duet with Randy Travis before touring country-music venues and making the first of many appearances at the Grand Old Opry.

“I’m not a country singer, so playing at state fairs and on the Grand Ole Opry was very daunting,” McCrystal notes. “My background is in pop, jazz, and Broadway but I quickly realized that country music is all about songs from the heart. If you sing songs that you love, and in a sincere way, country audiences, in fact, all music fans will recognise that. One of my favorite quotes, which happens to be from Beethoven, rings true, ‘To sing a wrong note is insignificant, but to sing without passion is unforgivable. That is something I totally believe.”

Eamonn achieved another crucial breakthrough in 2015 with the television concert special the Music of Northern Ireland; this was so well received when it was played on a US TV channel that it was awarded a whopping four Emmys.

Since then the totally charming and affable pop tenor continues to see his star rise and rise. Now based in LA he even assures me he misses the rain that is so predominant in his native country.

“My life could never have turned out like this if I had planned it,” he laughs.“It’s hard to believe that this is actually my tenth album but it’s an album I have wanted to make for a very long time and to work with guest Stars like Rita Wilson, wife of Tom Hanks, and Chloe Agnew who was formerly of Celtic Woman, has just been amazing.”

What is certain is that the new album should be a true crowd pleaser. Something about McCrystal’s assured and easy performance style reminds one of the old classic crooners like Sinatra only with a twist of contemporary pop sensibility added.

Thematically the latest collection covers a good deal of musical and emotional ground. There’s philosophical insight throughout the Billy Joel-penned title track as well as personalised readings of such contemporary standards as Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now and Neil Sedaka’s Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.

A focal point of the album is Pray for Peace which features vocals from Rita Wilson and Agnew.

Co-written by Linda Thompson and Bernie Herms, the stirring track is a timely call to action on an emotional and spiritual level. “From the first piano chord and the opening lyric of the verse, I instantly knew this was a special piece of music,” explains McCrystal. “That is a sensation that almost never happens. We are at a point in time where this song and its’ sentiment needs to be heard more than ever.”

And So It Goes is an album that he’s wanted to make for a long time. “For years,” he explains, “people have approached me and suggested that I should sing a particular song. Over time I kept a list of all that material and even incorporated some of that music into my live shows. For this album we decided to put them all together, add a couple of new ones and the album was born. They are all songs that I love and enjoy singing so it’s very exciting that I’ve finally got them all together in this one project.”

Looking ahead, McCrystal and Agnew will embark on a 15-city US tour starting December 3 in Los Angeles before crisscrossing the United States with gigs in Santa Fe, Oklahoma City, Nashville and New York.

“For me, music is about emotion,” he concludes, “and I’ll only sing a song if I think I can bring something of myself to it. My fan base has been fantastic, and they’ve stuck with me through all the many projects. They’ve been with me through this entire journey, and so I owe it to them to put as much of myself into the music as I can.”

And So It Goes by Eamonn McCrystal is released today (November 4).