My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: The O’Kanes – ‘The O’Kanes’

The O’Kanes brought the sibling-style close harmonies pioneered by the Louvin Brothers into the late 20th century. They were not in fact brothers, but the unrelated singer-songwriters Jamie O’Hara and Kieran Kane. But their voices melded exceptionally well and they created a little magic during their relatively short partnership in the 1980s. Writing together from 1984-1985, they worked on the material for their debut album, which was eventually released in 1986 when the New Traditional movement had made room for artists like this, who were a step outside the mainstream, combining very traditional country and more modern influences.

Their very close Louvin Brothers styled harmonies, catchy tunes, punchy and often acoustic bluegrass-influenced instrumentation and well-written lyrics were simultaneously modern yet retro, and a breath of fresh air. The material was almost all written by the duo. When their self-titled debut album was released in 1986, Jamie O’Hara had just enjoyed a #1 as writer of the Judds’ ‘Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Ol’ Days)’, and the material he and Kieran Kane wrote together is consistently just as good.

Their debut single, the insistent mid-tempo ‘Oh Darlin’ (Why Don’t You Care For Me No More?)’ was a top 10 hit in 1986. The protagonist is baffled by the change in his loved one, when he hasn’t changed at all. A similar tempo and vibe took ‘Can’t Stop My Heart from Loving You’ all the way to #1. This time the protagonist is helplessly in love with a woman who he accuses “ you treat me badly and make me blue”, but the hypnotic edge makes the sad tale positively catchy.

The next single, another top 10 hit, is my favourite track. ‘Daddies Need To Grow Up Too’ is the affecting story of an absent father who regrets his choices and now promises his child he will change his ways:

You’re the hero in my eyes
You see
Daddies need to grow up too
Learn what they should and they shouldn’t do
In a way we’re a lot like you
We need some understanding
Daddies stumble
Daddies fall
We don’t really know it all
Gonna try to make it up to you
Daddies need to grow up too

The fourth single, the charming love song ‘Just Lovin’ You’, hit # 5. It has a lovely slightly old fashioned vibe, which is a delight to listen to. ‘When I Found You’ is another romantic ballad, but one which gains added impact from comparing the protagonists’ newfound happiness to past “love proved untrue”:

When I found you I lost the emptiness
So painfully locked away in my heart
Gone was the despair
That dreams don’t come true …

I lost my sorrow when I found you

‘Gonna Walk That Line’ is an irresistible declaration of love and commitment by a bad boy who has changed his ways and is prepared to settle down at last:

I’ve never been too good at doin’ right
Done mostly wrong most all my life…

I used to be a tomcat out on the prowl
Baby I’m just your puppydog now

The haunting ‘Bluegrass Blues’, the first song the duo wrote together, has a more downbeat attitude. ‘When We’re Gone, Long Gone’ is a quietly philosophical semi-gospel song with a very retro feel. The one song not written by the duo is a cover of the Elvis Presley hit ‘That’s Alright, Mama’, treated with an unexpected delicacy which makes an over-familiar song sound new.

The duo’s relatively short life means they have been largely forgotten, but the music on this album sounds as fresh today as it did in the 80s, and is well worth reviving. For what it’s worth, they are my personal favourite of the duos we’re spotlighting this month.

The CD is out of print, and not all tracks appear to be available digitally, but it’s worth tracking down if you can find a copy.

Grade: A

6 responses to “Album Review: The O’Kanes – ‘The O’Kanes’

  1. Razor X January 23, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    I think these guys weren’t flashy enough to have had any longevity. In fact, it’s rather amazing that they had any success at all, even briefly. It goes to show how much things have changed for the worse, because an album like this would never be considered a commercial project today.

    “When We’re Gone, Long Gone” is my favorite from this collection.

  2. Leeann Ward January 24, 2012 at 6:44 am

    I’m not familiar with this duo beyond their name, but I’m intrigued enough to check them out now.

  3. Ken Johnson January 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Though the duo had a rather brief shelf life they added a fresh new sound to country radio playlists. The late 1980’s was a great era for musical experimentation when acts like the O’Kanes could get at least an opportunity to be heard. The duo added a new dimension to country music and made the format more exciting and diverse. Best of all their unique sound was definitively country not rock/pop retreads like the majority of today’s country wannabes.

    Prior to forming the duo Kieran Kane charted quite a few solo records for the Elektra & Warner Brothers labels earlier in the 1980’s. His most successful single “You’re The Best” peaked at #14 in September 1981. He also co-wrote “As Long As I’m Rockin’ With You” for John Conlee in 1984. O’Hara was a successful songwriter too writing ‘Wandering Eyes” & “Older Women” for Ronnie McDowell in 1981.

    The duo disbanded in 1989 to resume individual careers. Both released new recordings in the early 1990’s but could not find an audience for their solo material.

  4. Rick January 26, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    I tracked down an excellent used copy of this CD for a reasonable price a few years ago after searching for awhile on eBay (before Amazon listed all the independent sellers, or before I knew they did! lol) It’s just a shining jewel of mellow folk country and is the type of album I will never tire of. The mid 80’s “early digital sound” is present, and the recorded volume level is quite low, but its still a keeper because of the musical content.

    Back in either the late 90’s or early 2000’s there was a male duo named “Hometown News” that very much tried to tap into this same vein. Their vocals and harmonies were just fine but their best songs didn’t rise to the level of the O’Kanes even though much of their material is quite enjoyable. Their CD “Wheels” can be picked up off Amazon for next to nothing and is well worth a couple of dollars. The song “Minivan” is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face as its the tale of a “soccer dad”! (lol)

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