Annie Keating presents a set full of songs of love and loss, joy and heartache – from Bristol County, Massachusetts
Release Date: 4th June 2021
Label: Self Release (Order Here)
Formats: CD / Digital
Sometimes a reviewer can just strike lucky and come across an album that he/she knows will, from first listening, become a long-term favourite. Bristol County Tides, the new album from Brooklyn singer/songwriter Annie Keating is one such album. In fact, to describe Annie as a mere singer/songwriter is to do her a grave disservice. She’s a poet and a visionary artist with the rare and awesome capability to express her deepest emotions in a way in which the listener has no choice other than to truly empathise.
She’s been around for quite some time – first spotted by the ubiquitous Bob Harris some 15 years or so ago – Bristol County Tides is her eighth full-length album, and follows 2018’s All The Best. In her time, she’s been compared to the likes of Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Bob Dylan, Alison Kraus, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin. She’s performed at a host of leading festivals all over North America and Europe and she’s shared concert bills with such luminaries as John Hiatt and Bon Iver. On the evidence of the album I’ve just heard, those accomplishments and accolades are all thoroughly deserved.
Let’s deal with those comparisons first of all. Bonnie Raitt, Alison Kraus and particularly Lucinda Williams are all clearly detectable in the structure and delivery of her songs, and her lyrics, that combine passion, lucid observation and no little sprinkling of good humour, certainly withstand the most critical of comparisons to anyone you’d care to mention. But overwhelmingly, these songs are her own, and Annie sings them with passionate assuredness, in a wonderful voice that covers the whole range of emotions from intimate sweetness to seductive drawl.
And Annie has chosen her contributing musicians very well indeed; whether the song is a Stones-like strut or a soft, tender ballad, the instrumentation is just right and each of the musicians excels when called upon. Alongside Annie, who accompanies her excellent vocals on acoustic guitar, Teddy Kumpel plays just about every kind of guitar, plus banjo and mandolin, Steve Williams is on drums and Todd Caldwell plays anything with a keyboard. The core musicians are supplemented by Richard Hammond on electric and acoustic bass, Charlie Giordano on accordion, Gerald Menke and Chris Tarrow on superb pedal steel and Adam Podd on piano. And they sound beautiful!
Annie Keating describes Bristol County Tides as a ‘Pandemic Album.’ The album’s cover features a painting of the road in Bristol County, Massachusetts, to which Annie and her family retreated at the onset of the COVID pandemic. The idyllic location provided the inspiration for all of the album’s songs which, again in Annie’s words, “Take us on a journey from Brooklyn to the coast, the river to the sea.”
Normally, when I hear an album for the first time, two or three tracks will stand out above the others. Bristol County Tides is different; this is one of those rare albums on which every single track is a highlight, and I have a feeling that, come December, I’ll be talking about Bristol County Tides again as one of my albums of the year. It’s THAT good. There’s a bit of something for everyone here: strutting, swaggering rockers, swampy Creedence-like rock, intimate love songs, evocative high-on-imagery ballads, reflective folk and a boozy saloon singalong. Annie also throws in a wonderful tribute to her 83-year old mother for good measure!
Album opener Third Street is one of Keating’s rockers, laden with dirty, smoldering guitars whilst Kindred Spirit, the current single and the song that hooked me into this album, is softer, with an urgent, breathy vocal and an excellent lyric that manages to combine a feeling of resigned hurt with just the right amount of venom. Marigold is widescreen and contemplative with some solid guitar solos and wonderfully soothing organ touches – an embellishment that also gives an edge to the folkier Nobody Knows.
Blue Moon Tide is hot and swampy – one of the numbers with a slight Creedence flavour, before we get to Half Mast, a highlight in an album crammed with highlights. Lyrics like “It’s hard to get around in this hurricane – world’s turned upside down, but we go on just the same” perfectly capture the difficulties and frustrations of pandemic life, whilst offering hope and confidence that the tribulations of the past year will, one day, be over. High Tide is another song that alludes to the boredom and loneliness of enforced isolation yet offers, with lyrics like “Driving into baby blue sky, into sunshine – who’d ever guess, the world’s such a mess, this day is so fine.” hope for the return of normality.
As its title suggests, Kindness is one of the more tender offerings in the collection. Laced with excellent piano and pedal steel, it’s a wordy confessional with a real feel of Lucinda Williams about it. And then Annie gets round to offering us a drink in the hilarious country-rocker, Hank’s Saloon, a song that makes us all yearn for the boozy freedom that we’ve missing during lockdown and the accordion and honk-tonk style piano just pile on the fun. The bar opens at noon, by the way – see you there!
Song For A Friend is a tender, intimate song with a structure and vocal inflection that recall the earliest days of The Velvet Underground. It’s a song that is underpinned by some great bass fills and yet more sublime pedal steel. Doris, the aforementioned ode to Annie’s mother is simply delightful. The lyrics really capture the singular personality of the song’s subject, and they’re cheeky yet respectful. I particularly love the observations like: “She still drives with two feet – one foot on the brake and one on the gas,” and “She drinks Johnnie Walker Red with a little bit of water – she says ‘it opens the whisky if you give it a stir’.” And the song’s conclusion – “I want to live like that the older I get” is an aspiration that any of us who are entering the harbour that lies beyond middle age can subscribe to. Actually, Doris sounds like the kind of woman that my own mother would have loved to have met!
And we’re still not finished! Bittersweet contains more vivid images of Annie’s Massachusetts sojourn in a delicate ballad on which the Keating voice is so frail, it seems to crack around the edges, before we get to rock again with the sleazy Lucky – a song packed with gambling metaphors and topped off with a stated determination to “loose inhibitions by midnight.” Penultimate track Shades of Blue keeps up the rocking pace with its chugging guitars before Goodbye, a folky number with a backing that builds gradually and satisfyingly, brings things to a close. On the surface, a sad song of parting, it conveys an upbeat message, with offers of hope for a happy future.
Bristol County Tides is an exceptional album and Annie Keating is an exceptional artist. This album deserves to be a success. It’s given me a great deal of pleasure – why not let it do the same for you?
Watch the Official Video to Marigold from Annie Keating – a track from the album below.
Annie also has a live release show scheduled for 4th June 2021 via her Facebook & YouTube page. It will commence at 9PM EST (that will be 2AM GMT). The show will be re-broadcast on Sunday 6th June at 2PM EST (7PM GMT) specifically for viewers in Europe and the rest of the world. At The Barrier is reliably informed that it’s going to be a very special show…!