Chopping guitar, husky flute, driven fiddle, and you are on your way; so opens a set of sweeping reels on John Whelan’s new album, Flirting With The Edge. And that is what he proceeds to do for almost an hour.
A Celtic album, with its reels and polkas and waltzes, accordions and fiddles and mandolins, Whelan incorporates elements of various cultures and styles in to his arrangements, once again pushing his music to new frontiers. While stalwarts Pat Kilbride, Seamus Egan, Jerry O’Sullivan and other Irish notables infuse their distinctive playing, the album reaches into other worlds.
Ugandan musician Samite hypnotically rolls the rhythm with his kalimba (finger piano) playing while the Spanish guitar playing of Oscar Lopez adds fuel to the Celtic fire. Connie Dover sings “Red Is The Rose” – beautiful – and almost unexpectedly, the divine Bernadette Peters performs a heart-wrenching version of “Dublin Lady.”
Whelan has a special way with accordion. He doesn’t just play tunes, he manages to get inside a melody and wring every ounce of feeling from within, a tough thing to do on an accordion. I think. The life and tunefulness he brings lifts the instrument to a higher level. This is music at its best.