John Whelan

Celtic Crossroads

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To their credit, when Narada decided to dabble in Celtic music, they went with the "reel" thing, not an ethereal, synthesized version designed to appease an otherwise disinterested audience. Though willing to experiment and incorporate new elements into his music, accordionist John Whelan is not about compromise either. Yes, the production is slick, and yes, there's little spontaneity in these tracks, but Whelan's soulfulness and superb musicianship cannot be overlooked. Stars abound, including Jerry Douglas, Johnny Cunningham, Kathy Mattea, multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan, and Whelan's Kips Bay cohort Pat Kilbride, who plays cittern and guitar. (Whelan declares Kilbride to be the best accompanist he's ever played with.) Kilbride, along with percussionist John Ballestero, creates an eerie and metronomic effect on "Mabel Ruddy's/Windy Gap." Whelan is perhaps without peer when it comes to delivering a melody on accordion; his style is generally of a cheerful and uptempo nature. On Celtic Crossroads, there are just enough doses of the sweet, sorrowful and haunting to yield an emotionally well-rounded listen. The combination of styles and textures is best exemplified on the Tommy Sands classic "There Were Roses," clearly an Irish song although Douglas' dobro and Mattea's vocals give it an American flavor. The backdrop of fiddle and pipes bring the song safely back home again to Ireland. Such a pattern is reflective of Whelan's own experience as an Irishman living in the U.S., playing music influenced by his native homeland.

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