First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2007, Volume 14, #9
Written by John Metzger
Sat September 22, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Singers and songwriters ought to be firmly in their element when performing before an audience. More often than not, however, their concert collections tend to be flatter and less interesting than their studio endeavors. Erin McKeown’s Lafayette, then, is a welcome exception to this rule, and it likely serves as a better retrospective than a studio outing containing songs that were plucked from the five efforts in her back catalogue.
Over the course of her career, McKeown has demonstrated a propensity for jumping almost randomly across a wide array of genres. Although her early outings — particularly her 2003 set Grand — were prone to causing whiplash, she has settled down in recent years to create works that are considerably more focused. Still, she hasn’t remained in one place for very long. Her 2005 endeavor We Will Become Like Birds was decidedly a pop-oriented affair, while the subsequent Sing You Sinners found McKeown strolling through the Great American Songbook in a fashion that was far more effective than Rod Stewart.
On Lafayette, McKeown succeeds in stringing the disparate strands of her career together to create a cohesive whole. Backed by The Little Big Band — which features drummer Allison Miller, bass player Todd Sickafoose, pianist Erik Deutsch, trumpeter Shane Endsley, and saxophonist Erik Lawrence — McKeown delivers 11 songs that provide an evenhanded overview of her canon. Rather than keeping the full slate of musicians on board for every track, McKeown rotates them on and off the stage as they are needed. This approach allows her to apply a full range of textures to her compositions. Without skipping a beat, she effortlessly moves, for example, from the swinging, jazz- and blues-inflected ’50s rock of Thanks for the Boogie Ride to the sludgy, Neil Young-inspired moodiness of James!, and from the twinkling, Cranberries-ish alt-rock of To the Stars to the perky, sunshine pop of Slung-Lo. Elsewhere, she slips Melody inside an ebullient, Crescent City-derived arrangement; she swipes the salsa-flavored horns from Paul Simon’s Late in the Evening and attaches them to We Are More; and before turning You Were Right about Everything into a majestic anthem, she conjures a modernized blend of The Band’s gospel, folk, and soul ruminations.
Throughout Lafayette, McKeown’s enthusiasm is downright infectious, and when she asks the audience to participate in performing We Are More, the results are affecting rather than annoying. McKeown might be too eclectic to ever amass more than a small band of loyal followers, but as her body of work has expanded, she increasingly has made the case that she’s the real deal. Lafayette not only continues that trend, but it also raises the ante. ˝
Lafayette is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box