At Al’s Bar, 31/1/09 Reviewed by Gill Coe
From the very first bars, you knew you were in for something special. The big Canadian with his beautiful baritone voice, paired with the sexy, bejewelled, Chilean with flying fingers and a delightful patter, wowed the 50 or so people at Al’s Bar at the end of January.
I first saw James Keelahan when he played at the Harbourlight many years ago and touched us with his story songs and obvious love of history and music. He’s a more than adequate guitarist and another example of Canada’s fine singer-songwriters. What is it about that country that produces such excellent talent? Joni Mitchell, Stan Rogers, Gordon Lightfoot and the list goes on.
Couple him with Oscar Lopez (O Lo – J Lo’s better looking cousin – yeah, right!) as “Compardres” and you had a night to remember. Oscar’s skill on the guitar was a feast for the ears and the eyes. His accompaniment to James’s singing was restrained when it needed to be and the next minute full of the wonderful Latin guitar flourishes that you suspect makes the guitarists in the audience go home and consider chopping their fingers off. Not a bad voice either. His wicked grin and wonderful facial expressions won the hearts of the crowd (as did his gorgeous baby – 5 month old Niko who happily endured “Pass the Baby” and was in danger of being kidnapped by the President’s husband!).
At the break, when I commented to Oscar that he was so comfortable with his guitar that it seemed like another limb, he replied that “the guitar is an extension of my soul” (which somehow sounds more passionate when said with a strong South American accent). He then went on to say that he started playing, at church, when he was 10. He now lives in Calgary and the influences of both cultures have moulded an extraordinary performer.
The mix of ballads and fast numbers was skilfully done, with delightfully quirky numbers such as “Bump Me Up to First Class” and “Why Don’t You Just Grow Up?” interspersed with slower pieces like the sad Spanish “Lamentos”. As it did the first time I heard it, James’s “Cold Missouri River” based on the true story of the smoke jumper fireman in the 1940s who survives a fire through sheer intuition and bravery, is then pilloried by his colleages and dies young of cancer, reduced me to tears.
Thank you Compardres for a passionate evening of wonderful music. Thanks to the Folk club for booking these great artists (and for the free Saturday night Celtic Fusion concert)). Thanks to Al for taking a punt with the Folk Club and to his staff for looking after us well. They’re quick learners – the noise level behind the bar was significantly reduced on Wednesday night which was much appreciated by the audience.