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Music Review: James Keelaghan – House Of Cards

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We have all seen how the House Of Cards, a.k.a. the global financial system has tumbled over the last year or so. Award winning Canadian singer-songwriter James Keelaghan has chosen this analogy as the rather apt title of his recently released album. It is the latest in a career spanning over a quarter of a century.

Keelaghan’s style of easy listening folk resulted in him being presented with a Juno Award, Canada’s Academy Of Recording Arts and Science principle award. His songs often explore the history of his homeland of which he is clearly proud and from which he draws much of his inspiration.

For this album, however, he is joined by fellow writers David Francey, Rose Cousins, Dave Gunning, Karine Polwart, and Lori Watson, who were literally locked in a house with Keelaghan to write the material for House Of Cards. Together they have served up a nicely balanced set of soothing folk songs.

The very title of this latest album highlights his ability to write songs that whilst plumbing traditional folk influences can also be inspired by contemporary themes. James Keelaghan is renowned for his passion to write poetic lyrics that narrate often tragic tales and real life accounts from both past and present as he explores his twin passion for history and language.

He explains this on his official website, when he says, “some things weren’t being said in the way I wanted to say them, some things were not being written about at all. That’s why I started to write the historical material. That led me to writing my own personal narratives as well”.

In the past this fascination with history has inspired many of his best known songs. For example, “Kiri’s Piano” re-visits one of Canada’s hitherto darkest chapters of Japanese internment camps during World War II. Other well known songs from him include “Fires Of Calais”, “Cold Missouri Waters”, and “Hillcrest Mine”.

House Of Cards is, in part, right up to date with his observation on how the world’s financial systems proved to be built in exactly that way. “Easy money no credit down, that’s the way we built this town” he sings as the “House Of Cards and a pack of lies” begins to unravel.

The album opens with “Safe Home”. It is a gentle reminder of just how his music paints pastel scenes of a moment in time, in life, and in all of us. “Next To You” follows, as an unashamed song of love delivered in his soft baritone and easy acoustic style. “Since You Asked” justifies just why people wait on his every well written verse in recognition of his poetic ability to catch a moment and bottle an emotion.

One of the tracks that will, no doubt, gather the most attention is the ballad entitled “McConnville’s”. It is an emotionally charged and cloyingly tragic story of whisky, early death, and a lost friend. It is straight out of the Country tradition of somewhat over stated sentimentality in an effectively simplistic story telling style. It will leave you staring wistfully into your empty glass.

“What’s For You” continues that feeling with a song of similarly charged lament. “I’ve been thinking about the ones that can’t be here, every drop I’m drinking, seems to draw them near”.

“Medusa” weaves powerful imagery in one of the album’s potential highlights and forms a dramatic pairing with the next track “Twister”. This is a deceptively upbeat sounding song of the slowly building power of storms and how they can occur in relationships. This is, of course, very relevant for those who find themselves identifying with the ‘can’t live with, and can’t live without you’, theory.

The fresh breezes of “Leave Town” and “Circle Of Stone” are the very definition of gentle easy listening. They close the album leaving you feeling warm in the face of the approaching winter. Whilst not necessarily being an album that would be wise to prescribe to anyone suffering the results of one of life’s disasters it is still a highly engaging and rewarding trip through the music of James Keelaghan.

For more information, interviews, and live dates please visit James Keelaghan's official website.

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About Jeff Perkins