Kevin Keegan,
The Music of Kevin Keegan
(Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 2004)

Born in eastern Galway in 1924, Kevin Keegan has achieved nearly mythic status in the somewhat smallish world of Irish box (button accordion) players. This status is partly due to the skill and joy that informed his performances (he died in 1978), and partly because he never had a "regular" recording contract; for the whole of his performing career took the music to the people in live venues.

This collection of Keegan's performances is a melange of home cassette and open-reel recordings, and even a couple of wire recordings. In short, the last thing these recordings will be mistaken for is studio work. What these performances lack in technical polish, however, they more than make up for in the obvious vitality and brio present in nearly every tune. Keegan came to the U.S. in 1956, settling in Chicago, where he was a fixture at Jack Hanley's House o' Happiness, and later found himself settling down for good in the early '70s in the San Francisco Bay area, where he regularly performed at the Plough & Stars Pub.

The 23 tracks of this program run the usual gamut of traditional tunes, with a liberal distribution of jigs, reels and hornpipes. There are in addition a sprinkling of songs -- one of which, "Little Thatched Cabin," is considered Keegan's signature piece. We also are favored with a quick-step waltz in the eponymous "Kevin Keegan's Waltz," a slower waltz in "The Cuckoo" (a masterful medium tempo solo offering), the long dance "The Blackbird" and the austerely paced clan march "Battle of Aughrim."

On the two reel set "I Wish I Never Saw You/The Pullet," Keegan borrows Joe Burke's squeeze box, and gives a sprightly rendering of these classics. The best of the hornpipes is the classic "An Comhra Donn," and the jigs are well served by the spirited rendering of "Trip to Athlone/Pipe on the Hob." Finally, buried in the mix is my favorite gem, a recording of "Adeste Fideles" rendered in the course of a midnight raid to a local church back in 1954, and featuring the slightly mad church organ in a truly memorable prelude.

Keegan is assisted here and there by the driving banjo of Max Parsley, whose counterpoint propels several of the dance tunes forward. The disc is also favored by liner notes from box legend Joe Burke, whose admiration of Keegan's craft is obvious.

We have here, then, a necessary disc for all who seek to gain a complete understanding of the rise of button accordion music in Celtic America. It is significant that Keegan never went home after coming to the United States, and his role in helping to bring Celtic music to Americans is rightly highlighted with the release of this splendid set.

- Rambles
written by Gilbert Head
published 9 July 2005

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