Annie Keating. Bristol County Tides

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.

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Annie Keating. Trick Star

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Despite being championed by Bob Harris Annie Keating still seems to be somewhat under the radar in the big old world of Americana. Undeterred she keeps plugging away with Trick Star her seventh album and one that ensures that those in the know including The Telegraph’s Martin Chilton and the Glasgow Americana festival, will continue to sing her praises.

Keating says of Trick Star that it’s about being raised up, torn down and finding the way back home. There’s certainly a lot of memories contained here, the title song is about her first bicycle (something like a BMX) and offers her the one opportunity on the album to rock out with snarly slide guitar over a solid organ groove and a fine Dylan subterranean blues rap in the middle. The remainder of the album however is classic Keating, her voice often tender, almost childlike in its vulnerability at times, the songs clusters of fully realised images and emotions. While there’s a Donovan like innocent frivolity on the trombone borne Creatures, Keating wishing for the freedom and peace of mind  she imagines the animal kingdom to enjoy, and a fine pop rock swirl on Time To Help Me Forget it’s on the more restrained and contemplative numbers where she truly shines.

In The Valley is a lilting number with sweet pedal steel and viola and a bittersweet lyric as Keating describes an Elysian field, a place to lay her head. Slow Waltz aches, recalling Patti Page’s Tennessee Waltz as it slowly wends its way, Keating recalling a summer night at a carnival many years ago with the opening lines again allude to death as she sings, “I’m over my head, I’m trying not to care, I’m six feet under the overpass where we first met”.  Regret and forgiveness is writ throughout the very tender Orchard and the winsome country stylings of Come and Go while Fool For You is a halting and intimate song of self recrimination.

Keating’s regular posse of musicians ((Steve Mayone, Jason MercerChris Tarrow, Yuval Lion and Trina Hamlin) are credited by her as having been fully involved in the evolution and arrangement of the songs and throughout they are in fine form. They shine however on Lucky, a song that recalls the simple folkiness of John Prine in its lyrics as the band combine rippling acoustic strings with a fine curdled electric guitar.

According to Keating the seed of the album was sown at a concert at London’s Barbican Theatre when she heard the Brooklyn Youth Chorus performing Black Mountain Songs, a celebration of the North Carolina institute which in the 1930’s forged a blueprint for American alternative culture. Moved by the performance Keating wrote and has teamed up with the Chorus for the closing song here, Phoenix.  A celebration of the power of music and words, the rebirth of hope, an anthem of optimism it’s an addendum to the main body of the album but it’s also an anchor, ensuring that despite loss and hurt there’s always hope.

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Annie Keating. Make Believing. Proper Records

Over the course of five albums Annie Keating has crept up on the inside to come level with peers such as Patty Griffin, Gretchen Peters and Suzy Boguss and Make Believing is perhaps her most accomplished album to date. At first listening it’s more upbeat than its predecessors with a sunny disposition contained in many of the songs thanks to the well tempered playing, in particular the wonderful harmonica playing of Trina Hamlin which summons up memories of sun dappled days listening to country rock such as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Keating continues to sing wonderfully, her voice occasionally a wounded flutter (Blabber’n’Smoke even likened her to Melanie here) but for the most part she’s a seemingly effortless, almost sultry delight.

Recorded live for the most part over one weekend there’s a cohesiveness to the playing, a fine organic rooting through country and even soul on the organ drenched Still Broken. The opening song, Coney Island sets the scene with harmonica, rippling guitars and mandolin evoking carefree times as Keating conjures up the sense of dizziness experienced by young lovers on a day out in funland, a perfect aural equivalent to the faded Kodachrome snapshot of the big wheel that adorns the album cover. Sunny Dirt Road waltzes in with a country fiddle flourish and again Keating seems to be reminiscing about young love, this time in a honeysuckled south, but from here on in this youthful sense of optimism is lost as Keating moves into a more introspective mode more akin to her earlier albums. While Foxes, Know How To Fall and One Good Morning are all delivered with a skip in the step the lyrics are darker with the latter a forlorn yearning for one day with no bad news. Sink Or Swim is a gutsy riposte to bad news with a damned if we do, damned if we don’t attitude and a breezy delivery while Just Up Ahead is a sublime swoon of a song laden with plaintive guitar as Keating hunkers down and decries the futility of optimism. The arc of youthful joy to adult acceptance is completed in the Peter Pan like Lost Girls, a fantasy attempt to recapture lost innocence and again a wonderful performance with harmonica huffing away over a tremendous glistening sheen of guitar. Towards the end there’s the aforementioned gospel tones of Still Broken which is almost a confessional, an admission of failure as Keating sings “they say that time heals all but I’m still broken today, my guitar’s in the corner, I don’t want to play, my throat is so dry, I can’t seem to sing anyway.” Reminiscent of Satisfied Mind with organ swirls and a slow building climax and sounding as if were recorded in Muscle Shoals Still Broken is a minor masterpiece.

Whether this is a concept album that goes around like the wheel on the cover we don’t know but it’s certainly a powerful jolt of an album that should assure Ms. Keating’s ascendancy to the top ranks of Americana singer songwriters.

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Annie Keating

Short mention of what promises to be a fine gig tomorrow night in the State bar. Billed as a fringe addition to the Glasgow Americana Festival Annie Keating has delivered two fine albums in the past few years. We reviewed Water Tower View here saying

“Keating comes from a folkier side with an earthy delivery, her vocals husky, at times sounding like a female John Prine, at others reminiscent of the frailty of Melanie Safka. Her subjects are the usual folk topics, tales of losers for the most part and one might wonder what more there is to say about the underbelly of American life. However Keating has the ability to take a well worn scenario such as gambling in On the Loose and breathe new life into it.
With some very sympathetic backing from a variety of players all of these songs beg to be heard but the standout songs are The Borderline with a very restrained backdrop and Keating’s vulnerability well to the fore and the closing Scene I/Scene II which, as the title suggests, is like an aural movie. Intimate and engaging, an excellent recording.”

Her latest album For Keeps continues in a similar style and received good reviews including one in The Telegraph. We’d be there for a fine Friday night out but unfortunately won’t be in Glasgow. A pity as this is what we might be hearing.

Round Up Reviews

Let’s hear it for the girls. Oops, sexism aside here’s a slew of albums received recently from a bunch of great female artists. One thing you can say about Americana is that there’s a decent ratio of male/female artists with 9 out of 20 women in the current EuroAmericana chart including three of the albums reviewed here.


First up is Ashleigh Flynn, originally from Kentucky and now based in Portland Oregon with her third album, American Dream (Home Perm Records) and a bit of a dream it is too. Flynn has a truly fine voice, well suited for these songs with a little bit of backwoods twang and a little bit Sarah Jones smokiness in there she makes it all seem effortless. The ten self-penned songs are all excellent from the poppy Mystery to the hard luck story of Isaac on 3rd and Burnside. To top it all Flynn has gathered a great band of musicians with fine contributions from Paul Brainard (Richmond Fontaine) on pedal steel and trumpet. The upright bass, played by Jim Bromberg is an important part of the equation but there is some fine fiddle and Dobro flying throughout. The Seventh Sea is a perfect example of the picking and playing here with Flynn’s vocals betraying her Kentucky background. A fine album indeed.
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Listen The 7th Sea

In a similar vein is Lynne Hanson, based in Canada, originally from the American south. She too fronts a fine band of pickers and writes all the songs on Once The Sun Goes Down. Where Flynn’s album has an organic feel around the production, this album has a burnished feel with David Baxter’s production similar to Daniel Lanois’ trademark sound. Guitars ripple and burn while the percussion has a brooding quality to it best heard in Here we Go Again. Hanson’s voice is planted firmly in front and on a song like No More Rain she recalls early kd lang but the best elements here are the slower pieces. Somewhere A Lonely Flower is a sublime, impressionistic account of a trip to London while the last song, Lilacs Dancing, catches a romance in the moment it starts. Riptide is a sinewy snarl of a song with evil sounding guitar over a ripple of banjo. Again, a cracking listen.
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Listen Here We Go Again


Tara Linda’s Tortilla Western Serenade is a different kettle of fish altogether. Linda defines her music as tortilla western, “a musical genre blending spaghetti western, rock and Tex-Mex styles; roots music influenced by the land and stories of the American Southwest. So far so good. This boils down to a collection of songs, some with the rock inspiration to the fore as on the fabulous opener, Muse’s Duel with its twang guitar and mariarchi horns which is incredibly invigorating. Dream out Loud is another guitar-based song that is sexy and sinister while Crossroads showcases the guitar playing of Az Samed as it grumbles menencingly. This approach reaches its apogee on Leavin’ Texas (Drivin’ Slow) where LA punk inspired guitar and screeching Mexican horns collide
A good part of the album however is more restrained. Songs about historical Mexican figures (Teresita de Cabora, Padre Kino) have a more traditional “conjunto “ (the button accordion, the bajo sexto) approach. That some of the accordion is played by Flaco Jiminez is a recommendation in itself. For a debut album this is impressive and is heartily recommended for anyone into Calexico, Los Lobos or even Ry Cooder.
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Listen Muse\'s Duel


Finally we have Annie Keating with Water Tower View. Keating comes from a folkier side with an earthy delivery, her vocals husky, at times sounding like a female John Prine, at others reminiscent of the frailty of Melanie Safka. Her subjects are the usual folk topics, tales of losers for the most part and one might wonder what more there is to say about the underbelly of American life. However Keating has the ability to take a well worn scenario such as gambling in On the Loose and breathe new life into it.
With some very sympathetic backing from a variety of players all of these songs beg to be heard but the standout songs are The Borderline with a very restrained backdrop and Keating’s vulnerability well to the fore and the closing Scene I/Scene II which, as the title suggests, is like an aural movie. Intimate and engaging, an excellent recording.
Website
Listen The Borderline