It has always been the way of things that people like user-friendly labels to stick on music so they can neatly align themselves with one genre or another in that most tribal of way. I’ve never understood it as the most interesting music wilfully blurs boundaries, wanders at will through styles and genres and gathers its genetic make up often from the most unlikely sources. If you are one for the neat demarcation of genres then steer clear of Susan McKeown. Hers is a music journey it the truest sense of the phrase, geographically, musically and emotionally.
An Irish born singer making music in her adopted New York weaving strands as disparate as old time country, English pastoral folk, the sound of the Celtic fringe and the Appalachian Mountains, dark and sensuous gypsy jazz, the coffee house folk scene of her chosen city and everything that threads one to the other.
It is this clash of genres that raises the album above it’s contemporaries, whilst they are busy trying to establish themselves in one chosen field McKeown manages to write an album of songs that dominate them all simultaneously. Those that have her pegged as just a folk or country singer find their opinions null and void with one listen to the slow and hypnotic gypsy waltz of Lullaby of Manhattan or the Latin rhythms of City of Roses. Even the opening duet On The Bridge To Williamsburg is infused with as much of the traditional sounds of the Old World as it is with those of the New.
If any one song stands proud in this already stand out collection of songs it is Delph, an achingly beautiful small town drama that immediately has me making a mental note to play my old Sandy Denny records tonight over a glass of wine and an open fire.
If this were anyone else’s music, I would say that this is a surprisingly well crafted album, but McKeown has set herself such a high benchmark with her previous albums I guess this isn’t a surprise at all. I’m just glad that with such a great body of work already in the bag she still manages to find new musical heights to take the listener to.