If you were going to pick two writers to bring the roller coaster of the world’s economic situation these recent years into song, you might come up with Canadian James Keelaghan and Scottish songwriter Karine Polwart.
Keelaghan has a background in studying history, and his songs often tell the stories of historical events with color and immediacy. Polwart was a social worker before she turned full time to music, and writes songs which give depth and voice to social issues with perspectives which are pointed yet not at all preachy. They team up those skills for the title track of Keelaghan’s album House of Cards. Complicated and very human ideas of the situations financial disruption can involve, including fear, anger, guilt, and responsibility, play their parts as the two come up with a song that leaves room for both feeling and thinking. The melody, almost a march, adds a bit of a hopeful quality to the story they tell, as well.
In addition to his songs about history, Keelaghan has also been exploring the more personal side of things in his work. This album balances both aspects, with a thread of hope and people’s thoughts on that fragile and strong emotion running through the words and music. His resonant baritone and melodic singing style give depth to the stories he tells.
As most musicians are, the Winnipeg based songwriter (update: he now lives in Ontario) is a traveler, so it fits that the first cut on the album is a road song, Safe Home, and that there is a love song framed in a road song, Next to You. There’s inspiration and wisdom wrapped in laughter in Since You Asked, a theme that’s echoed in another co write with Polwart, What’s For You Won’t Go by You.
In the song McConnville’s, Keelaghan shows his skill with making a tale set in a specific place and time feel timeless. Circle of Stones suggests ideas through leaving things unsaid, not an easy path for a songwriter to negotiate well, and he does. There are ten cuts in all on House of Cards. Though the stories and melodies are not directly related, they weave well with each other, connected by that idea of hope, and in both subject and sound they resonate with and illuminate each other, suggesting a bracing wind from the Canadian prairies.
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