John Whelan & Friends
“Celtic Crossroads” (Narada)
Milford’s adopted son, the Irish-English accordion great and Kips Bay member, stands to reap recognition from a national audience with his latest album, thanks to the appearance of Kathy Mattea on Tommy Sands’ “There Were Roses.”
The combination of Mattea’s stirring vocals, Sands’ poignant lyrics (about Catholic and Protestant friends killed in Northern Ireland) and lush but understated instrumentation is enough to make this a memorable listen.
That aside, it’s the same high-caliber effort we’re accustomed to hearing from him, plus appearances by fellow Celtic music stars (Seamus Egan and Winnie Horan of Solas, Johnny Cunningham, Pat Kilbride of Kips Bay, Lisa Gutkin, Kinny Landrum and Jerry O’Sullivan) and Nashville aces (Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien and Lincoln Schleiffer).
His songs are much more serious than the manic, playful guy he is in person. His multifaceted personality even changes course in midtrack (a medley of jigs “Mabel Ruddy’s” and “The Windy Gap”), and you sometimes don’t even need titles to understand the feel of the song (“Champs Elysees,” “The Balkans”).
Whelan’s musical heart, as usual, beats ever close to his fingers, and gives forth another wonderful effort.