Erin McKeown – Manifestra (2013)

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I07zXXtc-d0&w=500&h=305]

Though she has dabbled in everything from rock to jazz to pop, Eric McKeown’s new album — in a move perhaps indicative of the times — focuses on folky, protest songs. Not that there aren’t a few fun flourishes along the way.

The self-released Manifestra, due on January 15, 2013, includes a honky horn counterpoint on “The Politician,” this nervy keyboard accompaniment on “The Proof,” a skittering dance-club rhythms of “In God We Trust,” a hiccuping guitar of “Histories,” this diaphanous piano signature of Regina Spektor-ish “Delight/Divide,” and so on.

Of course, the titles themselves are all the indication you need that Manifestra intends to explore something deeper than genre-twisting roots rock.

“If nobody knows, what’s the crime?,” McKeown sneers in “The Politician,” a withering indictment of those who would use elected office to further their own agenda. Elsewhere, there’s a track called “Baghdad to the Bayou” — think a pissed-off Rickie Lee Jones — that was cowritten by Rachel Maddow, talk show host on the liberal cable network MSNBC.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHgmegwk4Sc&w=385&h=280]

Still, McKeown’s seventh album can’t help but entertain musically, even when it drifts into more turbulent socio-political waters. “Histories,” a nakedly emotional call for understanding across cultures, is an ear-wormy delight — all hook, beneath its message. The spoken-word cadence of her title track, like a more confidential Lou Reed, connects on a deeply emotional level. And “That’s Just What Happened” might just be the best thing here, with a sound not unlike a pre-war chanteuse performing at an Old West saloon — made complete with a bizarrely effective Dixieland interlude.

In the end, there’s just as much brave musical curiosity here as there is teeth-clinching brio, and that helps Manifestra connect across any ideological aisle.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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