Named for the hideaway in Massachusetts where Keating retired to during the pandemic, Bristol County Tides finds the normally Brooklyn based artist in both gutsy and reflective form. The album is an odyssey of sorts with a claustrophobic funkiness in its opening numbers eventually opening out into a more relaxed acceptance of the way things are. Along this journey, Keating breathes life into some exceptional characters and also pays heed to more personal matters – family, friends and relationships.
It’s a full bodied, full band album with Keating riding the waves over an excellent sounding ensemble, her basic three-piece band along with a small host of guests who add accordion, pedal steel and keyboards. Altogether, the band are supple as they sway and swell, as able to dig into a deep Muscle Shoals like groove while also delivering the delicate intricacies of a song such as Half Mast which is winningly swoonsome.
Third Street opens the album with a vengeance. A grungy urban cry, it prowls the streets capturing snapshots of modern day equivalents of Damon Runyon characters with a voyeur’s eye and snakelike guitars. Kindred Spirit inverts the voyeurism as Keating imagines herself as one of the denizens and invokes the empathy and support which is often the token of community solidarity. Here, the band are more laidback, the guitars more liquid over swirling organ but Keating then dials this up several notches on Marigold which has that hefty blend of chunky guitar chords and church like organ which The Jayhawks utilised to great effect. Later in the album, there is Lucky 13, a luscious and languid swill of a song which is sultry in its kaleidoscopic and slightly nightmarish vision of a casino from hell.
In between these urban howls, Keating retreats to the country and elsewhere on several songs. Blue Moon Tide rides on sly acoustic slide guitar and barbed keyboards while Half Mast finds her creeping back into singer/songwriter territory on a song which comes across as if she were channelling the late Leonard Cohen. It’s fair to say that Keating can come up trumps when she strips things down somewhat as on the exquisite Song For A Friend (a song which just about sums up the album but she truly excels on Bittersweet. It’s a farewell song suffused with images and colours and memories, delivered with a fragile spare guitar and pedal steel backing with Keating, kind of weirdly I suppose, again reminding me of that 70s songstress, Melanie, in her vocal delivery.