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James Keelaghan

James Keelaghan
James Keelaghan has earned international acclaim for his songwriting and performing and is mainstage material for prestigious festivals all over the world. At home in Canada he's a Juno award winner and frequent nominee who has outgrown the coffeehouse scene.

A new album, Road, is out, and in it Keelaghan breaks new ground with a deeply personal collection of songs. Story, humor and spellbinding passions twine the audience and the performer into one, where the historical becomes immediate and the deeply felt is universal.

Keelaghan has not struggled to break out of Canada, but is comfortably touring the continent. He was the first Canadian to play the Hong Kong Folk Festival (no kidding!) and was one of the first Board members of the North American Folk Alliance. In 1996 he received the Global Visions Artist of the Year award for his work on the Unitarian Service Committee documentary, "Feeding the Future: Seeds of Survival." More recently, his song "Cold Missouri Waters" was recorded by Cry Cry Cry (Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell). It is telling that Keelaghan considers their recording one of the greatest honors he's received to date. It's no wonder the trio invited him to open a number of their sold-out concerts across the U.S.

His 300 days per year on the road have also seen him working on the wildly popular Compadres project with Latin guitarist Oscar Lopez. Time was compressed to allow him to narrate and compose music for two CBC radio specials, adding to his already long list of soundtrack and production credits.

Growing up in Canada, Keelaghan always knew he'd pursue either music or theatre as a career but, just in case, studied history at the University of Calgary. After finishing three courses short of a degree, he worked part time in music and part time in historical research until music "just took over." But it's Keelaghan's passion for history that has inspired some of his most celebrated work.

"Jonny Bryce," written in response to a conversation about conditions for women under the reign of Peter the Great, was recorded by Garnet Rogers on "Outside Tracks" and was later published in SingOut!, helping to establish early Keelaghan's reputation as a world-class songwriter. "Timelines" and "Small Rebellions", his first two albums, captured portions of Canadian history and generated long-lasting audience favorites. Keelaghan's debut album on the Green Linnet label, "My Skies," won the Juno for Best Roots Traditional album, and two nominations from the Alberta Recording Industry Association. The beautiful and well-known "Kiri's Piano", based on the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII, inspired artist Clare Kujundzic to create a painting about the events described. "A Recent Future" was released in 1995 to the tune of a second Juno nomination and two months on the Gavin Americana chart.

Keelaghan has made a natural leap from history to political themes, and branched out musically as well. The Compadres project with Oscar Lopez fused Latin and Celtic music into a "celtino" hybrid, resulting in what has been called the Canadian folk event of the year. It earned a third Juno nomination for Keelaghan and was voted "Album of the Year" by _Roque Folk_.

The last two years of Keelaghan's life have been examined musically and personally in "Road." Life is tumultuous, but the songs have come readily. The album was recorded in Toronto and produced by friend and violinist Oliver Schroer, who also performs. Also appearing is award-winning guitarist Wendell Ferguson, singer Rebecca Campbell and bassists George Koller and David Woodhead, with guest appearances by Stephen Fearing and Oscar Lopez.

The Road *is* a home, of sorts, for Keelaghan, and his milestones bear watching.

"A master at creating riveting theater in his ballads. His melodies are sure and clear: plain enough to carry complex historical stories, lovely enough to support lush images."--Boston Globe

"Keelaghan is a rare talent. His time is coming, and chances are it is coming with explosive potential."--Los Angeles Times Syndicate "An extraordinary extraordinary entertainer."--Regina Leader-Post