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Theatre, Music, etc.


January 25, 2013

Evenings Out

MeKeown’s manifesto

Erin McKeown has been around the block a few times. Seven, actually. Manifestra, out on January 15, is her seventh album.

Along the course of those first six albums, she has wandered near and far, musically speaking. She’s done the folk, the pop, the jazz standards. Now she’s doing pretty much whatever the hell she wants.

Apparently, part of what she wants to do is skewer the oil industry, like in the song “Baghdad to the Bayou,” co-written by Rachel Maddow. They talk about the Bluewater Horizon disaster and the war in Iraq. It is, like everything else on the album, a good song.

But for a song to be good is just fine, but we want great songs. We, in our iPod-mainlined world, with indie artists shanking each other like prisoners in the showers to get on a Volkswagen commercial, have too many good songs suffusing our consciousness constantly to ever be satisfied with that.

Thankfully, McKeown brings the great with the good. “In God We Trust,” for instance, almost sounds like a psytrance track. It’s hard to believe it has actual musicians and was not just programmed, but there is a very trippy vibe to it.

“Jailer” is another transcendent track, talking about the idiocy of the United States’ immigration policies. Strong political stuff, sung beautifully.

The titular track, “Manifestra,” is not so much with the singing. It’s more a spoken word song, with vague specters of Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde and Meryn Cadell. It works. It suits her.

Hmm-m. “Suits her.” That is an interesting choice of phrase, since the bluesy-jazzy-bayou-inflected musicality of most of the album does not really seem suited to McKeown’s voice. It’s too pretty. There should be a roughness to it that is not there when she sings. There are songs on the album that would have been better suited to Nina Simone, with that gargled-with-broken-glass growl, and instead it’s a choir singing “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”

And yet . . .  The deluxe edition of the album comes with a second CD, Civics, which is Erin McKeown doing the entire record again, just her and her guitar, stripped-down, bare-bones. This works! Any track on the main album that seems at all lacking makes up for it in the simplicity of its presentation on Civics. Between the two, Manifestra is a queer indie political music manifesto for the new year.

McKeown will be in concert at the Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Road, on January 24. Go and see which version she plays!




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