Someone much more astute than I once said, “I never saw my hometown until I went around the world,” and there could be an element of that in Agnes, the latest long player from Keegan McInroe. While he may wear the Texan badge with pride, this troubadour has spent the past decade venturing beyond the Lone Star State, traversing the stages of the Old World just as frequently as he played to the home crowd. But, as was the fate of all wandering minstrels, the pandemic abruptly halted much of his globe-trotting activity, directing his gaze closer to home. It was amidst the rugged landscapes of the western Texan desert and mountains that he uncovered newfound inspiration.
With those journeys and adventures within his home state came the chance to record an album in the old church of Saint Inez (the Spanish word for the name Agnes, itself a Greek word meaning holy) in Turlingua, Texas. The result is a collection of folk-blues songs seeped in the southern heartland’s sounds and style and, in a couple of cases, inspired by and perhaps even conjured out of the fabric of the building that birthed the album.
Even within the bluesy terrain that Keegan calls his own, “Agnes” traverses a not-inconsiderable musical range. The opener, “Old Road,” brims with a Waitsian swagger, sauntering through slinky, slow-jam grooves, while, “Chisos Mission Blues” offers the accompanying punchy sonic bookend as the album’s finale. The title track, a beautifully understated and poised folk composition, narrates the tragic tale of a young girl’s untimely demise, a tragic story of a life taken too soon, and “Talkin’ Site Unseen Blues” tips its hat to Johnny Cash in his lighter moments. There’s even room for a stylish waltz along the border, courtesy of “La Puerta.”
Agnes is a masterful album, one that delves into the sounds and stories of the southern realms, both ancient and contemporary. It weaves narratives of profound beauty and human impurity, deadly seriousness, and lighter relief. It embarks on sonic journeys through many signature southern styles – from groovesome blues to finessed folk to cowboy campfire tales and blending intoxicating fusions in between. Keegan McInroe stands as one of those rare artists who knows precisely who he is and where he comes from, yet he’s perpetually eager to travel the globe, sharing these tales of the place he calls home. That, my friends, is the essence of a true troubadour.