James Keelaghan, |
(Jericho Beach, 1999)
If you have never heard of Canadian folksinger James Keelaghan, prepare to be incredibly pleasantly surprised. Keelaghan is very well known in some circles and remarkably neglected in others, but Road offers a collection of songs that exemplify Keelaghan's great writing, singing and playing abilities.
Keelaghan has a wonderful, smooth voice that would be pleasant under any circumstances, but is incredibly well suited to his playing style; a little bit folk, a little bit county, a little bit bluegrass. His guitar work is also quite exceptional, featuring fast, precise finger picking. Keelaghan is well enough established that his albums are really well produced and feature fantastic artists backing Keelaghan (including guitarist Oscar Lopez and folksinger Stephen Fearing).
Keelaghan is one of the great storytellers in folk music, and Road showcases some very well-written pieces. His writing strengths definitely lie in historic stories, and "Captain Torres" tells the true story of a crew aboard a sinking ship who know that the ship is going down and all have time to call their families briefly before the end. The song is slow, simple, haunting and never fails to give me chills.
Keelaghan's writing strengths are not limited to historic pieces though, another great song Keelaghan has written on this album is "Who Dies," a celebration of life and, hands down, the most feel-good, singable tune ever written about human mortality. "Pillow" is a soft lullabye for an insomniac, and "Message to the Future" tells of the messages Kellaghan used to leave in ductwork when he worked sheet metal. Each of the songs features well-crafted lyrics and wonderfully written melodies that will stick with you even after the music is off. Along with Keelaghan's great originals, he covers Sam Larkin's "Mirabeau Bridge." Though not written by Keelaghan, this song also features great lyrics and a beautiful, simple melody.
If this is your first exposure to Keelaghan, you will not be disappointed. I would write out examples of some of his great lyrics, but I tried, and all I did was write out entire songs. I would write something bad, but I just can't. I am admittedly biased, I have been listening to Keelaghan for a while now, and have had the good fortune of seeing him in person. He is a phenomenal storyteller, and somehow he was lucky enough to be gifted with the voice to tell his stories. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that he is one of the greatest folk songwriters and singers around. If you enjoy folk music and have not listened to James Keelaghan, this album will inspire you to go out and get the rest. He is just that good.
[ by Kristy Tait ]