James Keelaghan's First Twenty-Five Years

History: The First 25 Years
Borealis 222

 Describing Saskatchewan-bred James Keelaghan as a “singer/songwriter” is woefully inadequate. For the past quarter century, Keelaghan has been an artisan carefully crafting and burnishing narratives, melodies, memories, and inspirations into something sublime. His songs are personal and universal, touching and provocative, literate and literary. Quite a few are history as it should have been–with the romance put back in, as he insists. And even as the tunes reverberate, Keelaghan’s masterful storytelling transports us across time, borders, and cultures. He commemorates his first twenty-five years of touring with an 18-track CD culled from his eleven albums, and with an accompanying 70-minute DVD in which he exercises his Irish shanachie roots by regaling listeners with the back story of his songs, family, journeys, musical collaborations, and inspirations. It’s a dealer’s choice of songs and the stories, hence a mix of audience favorites such as “Fires of Calais” and “Cold Missouri Waters,” and ones that mean a lot to him, such as “Mi Vida,” a collaboration with surrogate brother Oscar Lopez, and “Captain Torres,” a tale of a doomed vessel which he penned with very specific musical texturing in mind. He also lets us in on the secret that sometimes the song he’s singing isn’t exactly the story he’s telling; “McConnville’s,” for example, is as much about trying to score a bottle of whisky for his ailing father than the lad at the song’s center. Savor both CD and DVD–performers of Keelaghan’s skill, intelligence, and warmth are rare brews.

Rob Weir

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