“One listen to Bill Cooley’s new solo CD, “The Return Journey,” and you stop wondering why Kathy Mattea has used him as her principal sideman for the past 20 years. Cooley is a guitarist’s guitar player, like Vince Gill, who seems to be at home in most any style. This is Cooley’s 3rd foray on his own terms. While this may be a solo CD, Cooley has some fine help adding texture to his songs with percussion, strings, winds and Kathy Mattea providing vocals on a cover of Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water” (with as much or more power than the original thanks to Mattea’s smoky vocals working with the sparse arrangement of acoustic guitar and cello.) Three of the songs are just Cooley and his acoustic guitar: “Buckboard Bounce,” a happy, bouncy rhythm; “Hittin’ On All Six,” a perambulating blues that shows off some of Cooley’s signature licks and chord changes; and “Morning Poem,” a lovely, lonely piece reflecting Cooley’s love of a good melody. A touch ‘o the Irish comes in the form of “Gang Forward,” complete with Uilleann pipes backing Cooley’s single note runs. One fine arrangement is “Night Traveler” with acoustic bass and squeezebox lending a sense of railcars rolling through the cloudless night outside New Orleans . The only wish I had for this record that wasn’t met was that it were longer; Bill Cooley’s music makes you want to listen.”
“You might know Bill Cooley for his work on guitar supporting Grammy winner Kathy Mattea in her thoughtful folk and country songs, or perhaps for his earlier work with Reba McEntire or Hal Ketchum. What you may not know, though, is that he’s an inventive and creative composer as well as a gifted sideman. If you’ve heard his work with Mattea, you might assume that his touch, phrasing and understanding of how to put a piece of music together are more than strong enough to make his third solo album worth your listening. However, he also takes you to interesting places.
Mattea guests on Elton John’s enigmatic “Madman Across the Water,” the only cover on the album which also highlights Cooley’s skill at working with a singer. “Buckboard Bounce” is a ride in the country from solo guitar. “Escalator,” a jazz-swing combination, could easily have you tapping your feet (if not up dancing on them), with Cooley’s guitar backed by percussion from Jim Brock and acoustic bass from Dave Roe. It is apparent the three musicians had a really good time recording that piece , as they did with another very different tune they team up for called “Night Traveler.” “Gang Forward” finds Cooley exploring his longtime interest in Celtic music to great effect, while “Twilight Waltz” sees him working in a more classical vein, backed by violin, viola and cello. There are 11 tracks in all, and with the exception of Mattea’s contribution, there are no words. Nonetheless, this album will leave you with the feeling that you’ve just heard some very fine traveler’s tales of new places seen by an old friend.”
~Dirty Linen Magazine
“In what is surely one of the longest and musically richest partnerships in Nashville, Bill Cooley has been playing guitar in Kathy Mattea’s band for 20 years. His acoustic nstrumentals on his new, third collection are consistently dazzling. The title tune is full of melodic twists and turns and boasts superb bass work by Dave Roe. The guitarist composed all the songs, with the exception of the set-closing Elton John gem, “Madman Across the Water,” to which Mattea lends her voice.
“A guitar journey of insight and courage.” ~Best music of 2009 at Musicroad.blogspot.com