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Erin McKeown | Distillation (Parlaphone)
This neat little album has caused some stir in the USA (where it was released in October 2000) and, if it could be a little more easily categorised, we would probably have heard a little more of it and about it here in the UK before this domestic release. McKeown is a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter. The album, we are told, was recorded in a large spartan farmhouse in an acoustic manner, deliberately exploring the different acoustics of rooms, cupboards, stairwells and a wood panelled pantry. This all makes for a great sound, large and very clear.

Her eclectic style embraces roots, rock, Tin Pan Alley and jazz bop and things frequently get enjoyably funky in a very clear, clean way. Erin has all the emotional experience in her twenty -four years to inspire witty lyrics and sterling tunes but her logical mind seems to order, challenge and rearrange the uneasy, messy outpourings of the heart. Her energetic, confident manner may be too much for some. Cat Power she aint.

At college she discovered vaudeville and burlesque and it is the handful of numbers in these styles that may be a turn off for a large part of rock, new country and folk audiences. I was reminded of being in a band where we auditioned female singers fresh from drama school. They quickly lost our enthusiastic attentions when they launched into stage musical songs that they had obviously spent industrious hours over. But let this not be a negative review. It is not a CD I will quietly donate to my favourite charity shop. The funky Blackbirds is riveting, the happy, jaunty La Petite Mort is beautiful, and the penultimate track Dirt Gardener has guitar picking to make the likes of Bert Jansch admire its dexterity and richness whist other tracks continue to grow on you, especially the slightly dry, slow ones. Clever and talented.

Stephen Ridley
March-April 2003