James Keelaghan with Barbara Kessler and Emilia Antonaides
me and thee coffeehouse Marblehead, MA
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Called Canada's finest singer-songwriter by one of the most respected and lauded music journalists of the last 50 years, James Keelaghan is an artist who has proven to be a man for all seasons. As the calendar pages have turned, for almost a quarter of a century now, this poet laureate of the folk and roots music world has gone about his work with a combination of passion, intent and intensity, and curiosity.
Fusing his insatiable appetite for finding the next unique storyline Keelaghan also forges his pieces with brilliantly defined craftsmanship and a monogrammed artistic vision, making him one of the most distinctive and readily identifiable voices of not only the Canadian scene, but as a member of the international singer-songwriter community.
Armed with a songbook that has enlightened and enthralled, and been embraced, by audiences around the world, Keelaghan's life as an artist is one that is a perpetual journey on so many levels.
Most importantly it's a journey that has invited fans of literate and layered songwriting to be a part of his artistic expeditions, some that weave their way through marvelously etched stories of a historical nature with underlying universal thenes , and others that mine the depths of the soul and the emotional trails of human relations. His masterful story telling, over the course of nine recordings, has been part of the bedrock of his success, earning Keelaghan his share of nominations and awards, and acclaim from Australia to Scandinavia. "The necessity to write has always been a double-edged sword. I've always had the urge to write. Some things weren't being said in the way I wanted to say them. Then there are the different sides of what I write about. The narrative writing, the historical material, as well as the personal, where you have to take responsibility for what you are saying," says the Calgary native who has been calling Winnipeg home for the past few years. A disciplined visionary, Keelaghan's aces have long been a love of language, and history, as he earned a history degree years ago, his skills as a thespian that he acquired at an early age, that explain his ability to make an immediate connection with audiences in a live setting, and an ear for a memorable melody, and harmonies that make those melodies glisten.
"I'm good for 80 or so books a year, mostly history, non-fiction, but inspiration can come in many forms, I'm always on the lookout for a good story or idea. My sister told me the story that became Kiri's Piano. It was such an image," says Keelaghan that visits a dark chapter in Canadian history, Japanese interment camps in the Second World War. Not only does his deep catalogue include timeless originals like Fires of Calais, Cold Missouri Waters, Jenny Bryce, Hillcrest Mine, and Kiri's Piano. Keelaghan is also a possessive interpreter of outside material, a fine example being his gripping take on Gordon Lightfoot's epic Canadian Railroad Trilogy on the Lighfoot Tribute disc Beautiful. There are a number of illustrations of his interpretive skills on his 2006 recording A Few Simple Verses. The closing tune on that spellbinding set, My Blood written with Jez Lowe, is one of many examples in Keelaghan's career, where he has invited collaboration into his creative process.
"I was at the Celtic Colors Festival in 2008 and the producers locked six of us in a house for a week, and the company included Dave Gunning, David Francey, and Rose Cousins, it was an amazing experience. We had to come up with enough material for a show at the end of it.
"To go along with a lifelong accumulation of influences, there have been these opportunities to work with equals, whether if be Oliver Schroer, Hugh McMillan, or Oscar Lopez. The sparks of collaboration, batting melodies back and forth, whatever, have produced some wonderful results," says the artist who ties it all together with a powerful voice, delivery, and a commanding presence where he finds a balance between examining the lighter and heavier sides of life.
Admiration and respect for his work amongst his peers is best summed up by David Francey who recently stated that, "James Keelaghan sis a voice in contemporary Canadian songwriting that has helped us define who we are as a people. He writes with great humanity and honesty, with an eye to the past and a vision of the future. He has chronicled his times with powerful and abiding songs, with heart and eyes wide open."
OPENERS Barbara Kessler and Emilia Antoniades
Barbara Kessler feels most alive when she's on stage performing in front of an audience. "Music has always been the single most powerful way for me to express myself," she says. Her honest, engaging lyrics reflect the human condition, the universal experiences people share but have been socialized not to reveal. "I want my audience to feel like we're having an intimate conversation in a living room," she says. "An opportunity to connect in a seamless, heartfelt way."
Yet it's her demeanor on stage that really pulls people in a combination of playful spontaneity and focused attention to the audience. "A gig for me is a night out for someone; they showed up for the music, and I need to show up for them." Barbara owns the stage with a "dash of insecurity and a big glob of charisma" as someone recently put it.
Barbara entered the professional music scene several years after graduating from Cornell University, quickly moving from opening act to the main stage. Her debut CD Stranger To This Land won a Boston Music Award for best new folk/acoustic album. She has won awards from folk festivals including Kerrville, Telluride, and Rocky Mountain folks, has received national airplay as well as been featured on Sirius/XM and Mountain Stage, and her songs continue to be placed on TV shows like NCIS, JAG, Passions, One Life to Live, The Young and The Restless, All My Children, Ed, Felicity, and MTV. "Dreaming My Way Home," the end credit theme song she co-wrote and produced for the SONY PlayStation game, Rogue Galaxy has introduced Barbara to an international audience of all ages.
Famed drummer Jerry Marotta saw her perform at CB's Gallery in New York and offered to produce her second album, Notion. A review of the CD by The Boston Phoenix said, "It's not the hooks, the Froom-like production, or even the songs that make this album one of the best by any contemporary songwriter in years. What puts her over the top is her voice. A smoothly subtle and sometimes jazzy, versatile soprano full of surprises."
Putumayo seconded that opinion by choosing the album's haunting title track, "Notion," for inclusion in its classic 1996 complication, Women's Work, a theme that weaves its way through all of Barbara's CDs. "I wrote 'Mary Tyler Moore' (Stranger To This Land) because she was a role model for me. She wasn't a character's wife or secretary. The show was about her trying to live an honest life as a single woman in the 1970s," she said. "Women's life choices seem more complicated in a lot of ways."
Barbara made her own difficult choice in 2000.
After sharing the stage for nearly a decade and a half with artists including the Indigo Girls, David Wilcox, Shawn Colvin, Arlo Guthrie, Dar Williams, Richie Havens, Christine Lavin, Livingston Taylor and many others, Barbara decided to stop touring with the impending birth of her second daughter, Elaina. "I became a stay-at-home singer/songwriter so I could be present for my two daughters," she says. "Trying to be a Super Mom-Singer made it hard to do either job well." The post-touring years included a self-awakening that Barbara credits for moving her singing and songwriting in a new, deeper direction. She also ventured into improv and musical theatre, even appearing as a double in the movie, The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
Barbara's especially proud of a "mix-tape" benefit CD for moms she compiled and produced called Hope: Mothers Helping Mothers. "Gathering the music of other singer-songwriter mothers such as Lori McKenna, Eliza Gilkyson and Rachel Bissex helped me navigate the joys but also challenges of becoming a mom." Currently she's also coaching young artists on performance and songwriting, as well as producing their CDs in the studio she and her husband built in their antique-barn.
Now that her daughters are settling into their own lives, she's eager to return to the live performances and audience interactions that she loves. Her upcoming CD, tentatively titled "You Give it Away," is born of these years at home, joyful and ordinary, and the songs testify to this simplicity.
For Kessler, the time away from the stage has offered renewal in the deepest sense. "The past couple of years I've volunteered with my local theater group to host their open mic. Quite simply, it's reminded me of the power and immediacy of a voice, an instrument, and a song and the human urge to be heard. And to listen. People do need songs."
For this show, Barbara will be sharing the stage with her daughter, Emila Antoinades.
me and thee coffeehouse (View)
28 Mugford St
Marblehead, MA 01945