Kim Kirkpatrick: Erin McKeown surfaced in 1999 with her self released Monday Morning Cold. She toured, released two more CDs, a few EPs, and was generally defined as a folk singer/songwriter. Her fourth release, We Will Become Like Birds (2005) was produced by Tucker Martine* and this recording revealed an element of alternative rocker in her. Honestly no grunge is included, it rocks in a clean way, with excellent musicianship, and a beautiful recording quality**. All the tracks on KCRW Presents (2005) are from We Will Become Like Birds, performed live in the studio.
Erin McKeown tours incessantly, and because of this daily grind and her love of performing, it could be argued that live is the way to hear her. McKeown and band flex more musical muscle and interact with a wonderful push and pull on this KCRW live performance. The line up includes, Julie Wolf on various electronics/vocals, Neil Clearly plays drums/vocals, occasional vocals from Kris Delmhorst, and Erin McKeown on lead vocals and electric guitar. And she is a fine guitar player, inventive, rhythmically complex, and generally with a slightly overdriven, warm tube sound. Neil Clearly’s drumming is excellent, a fine choice for pushing McKeown’s driving rock songs, or for bringing a light jazz swing to the performance. It is a treat to focus on the interaction between the primary instruments, drums and guitar, not a common experience and one that expresses an up lifting, connected relationship between these two musicians. Julie Wolf’s electronic touches are tasteful and serve to color and fill out the mood of each song.
All of these songs deal with relationships and/or flight, both physical and spiritual. With all the flying and occasional bird referenced lyrics it is interesting to note that Erin studied ornithology at
*Tucker Martine has worked with an interesting variety of musicians including, Bill Frisell, The Decemberists, Wayne Horvitz, and Eyvind Kang. Got your attention now Bob, eh?
(Bob Burnett: Yeah--and with a little digging I found this info: "Producer Tucker Martine and McKeown came together to record We Will Become Like Birds. This album featured duets with Argentine artist Juana Molina and singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey."
** Somewhat relatable to Joan Armatrading’s earlier material, the music rocks but presents a variety of dynamics, and an underlying jazz touch. Similarities also feel right to compare Dave Mattack’s drumming for Joan Armatrading and Neil Clearly’s work with Erin McKeown, but I’ll leave that investigation up to you.