If you are a John Whelan fan, and you should be, May is the month for you! This button box whiz who lives in Connecticut is out with two- yes, two!! -new albums this month. Explanation. Whelan just completed his contract with Narada Records by releasing his fifth album for the label, Celtic Roots.
It is a wonderful album with full marks. Comprised exclusively of reels and jigs, the album was recorded ‘live’ at an acoustically wonderful church in Connecticut. All the takes are as you hear them. There are no overdubs or any tricks. It is all the real deal and recorded just as you hear it.
Whelan is the seven (yes, unbelievably seven) time All-Ireland button box champion. Long known on the festival circuit for his flamboyant showmanship, don’t be deceived. We once saw a performance of John’s at the Dublin, Ohio Irish Festival where he was literally dancing on a tabletop while playing with his band. It hit us then, and still does, that with all the craic going on, the performance was still perfect. Make no mistake, this guy is a master musician. He does not receive anything approaching the publicity that certain other trad acts do, yet it is an undisputable fact that he is one of the best selling traditional Irish musicians of all time. This guy is well known and well respected within the field. He is joined by several musicians on Celtic Roots, including two of our favorites. Zan McLeod is in on guitar. He is just one of those ever-tasteful backup players who is always perfect. There. Solid. Brilliant.
Also joining John is Jerry O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan has been reviewed here before and is rightly regarded as one of the absolute top pipers in America. Some say the best. Hard to argue. This album has a full range of familiar treats ranging from The Chicago Reel and The Star of Munster to lesser known goodies such as Eel in the Sink. Love that title. A lovely album for the listener, and a perfect album for those young dancers practicing for the summer competitions in their basements. Great jigs and reels. Great music.
The second album is on Whelan’s own label, Jar Productions. Entitled, From The Heart, the name seems apt. The album is an updated creation that the box player had out about 10 years ago in very limited circulation. Of the two, we like this album a little better, due to the broader variety of tunes. It also features excellent side cats including Seamus Connolly on fiddle and Joanie Madden of Cherish the Ladies on whistles and flutes. The album is also enhanced for some visuals along with the sounds. Lovely altogether. Terrific variety of tunes played, as always, impeccably. Keep an eye peeled for both of these treats. They should be relatively easy to find. We love Whelan’s work and have been long-time fans. These albums show why. And best wishes on the new effort with the label! Rating on both: 4 Harps.