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.
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.