Review : Erin McKeown - Hundreds Of Lions
AllmusicErin McKeown first gained attention as a folky singer/songwriter, albeit one who crafted tunes with considerable pop music charm. Her music has expanded over the years, becoming more inclusive of styles like bluegrass, blues, jazz, classic pop, swing, reggae, and light rock. Her last studio effort, Sing You Sinners, was a collection of cover tunes from the '30s and '40s, putting her distinctive, throaty alto to good use with inventive arrangements that combined all of her musical interests. This outing could be seen as an extension of that set, with arrangements that bring bossa nova, '60s Brit-pop, and the heartbreaking folk ballads that first inspired her. "Santa Cruz" is a pop tune that brings to mind the mid-'60s work of Bacharach/David, a tale of missed connections and love gone awry, but the jittery percussion, jarring electric guitar, and McKeown's insistent vocal add an element of emotional darkness. Sustained organ notes and a somber, clanging electric guitar accent the somber mood of "(Put the Fun Back in The) Funeral." It captures the hopeless feeling of depression without completely plunging you into the abyss. "You, Sailor" and "Seamless" hark back to McKeown's folk roots. "Sailor" sounds traditional, just voice and guitar, a poignant song of yearning that uses the sea as a metaphor for the distance between lovers; "Seamless" is almost a cappella, with McKeownstrumming sparse guitar chords to support her desolate vocal and a striking punch line -- "How can we know that apocalypse and bliss are truly seamless?" "All That Time You Missed" is brighter musically, if not lyrically, with its bossa beat making its tale of lovers struggling for connection sound like a gentle dance. The Farfisa piano and handclaps on "The Rascal" give it an early Merseybeat feel as McKeowndelivers a lively vocal that belies the song's message of anguish. McKeown's in fine voice throughout and the backing players add subtle polish to her finely constructed tunes. Her fluid vocals remain the centerpiece of the album, while her lyrics reveal the heart of a poet and the wisdom of a soul wise beyond her years....full text
PastemagazineIt can be hard to stand out in today’s landscape of female songwriters, where vocal acrobatics and wild orchestral accompaniment have become de rigeur, but on her latest, Erin McKeown offers a few blossoms in the brush. While the lush instrumentation on openers “to a Hammer” and “santa cruz” is bright and pleasant, and the playful rockabilly number “the Rascal” is a foot-stomping good time, Hundreds of Lions truly shines as it begins to slow down.
On “you, sailor,” the strong-willed and witty McKeown softens with gentle vocals and the stunning hum of whistles and strings. On raw, crackling closing track “seamless,” McKeown’s voice glides atop simple guitar strums and chirping birds, hinting at the conditions in which the multi-instrumentalist made the record—independently, in a farmhouse studio in the New England countryside. McKeown’s guard is down as she muses on the vulnerability and humility required for real intimacy: “We are tiny when held against the sky … we are fused you and I / what do I care how seamless is the line / where we begin and end?”...full text
PopmattersErin McKeown is one of a few contemporary folksingers who has transcended the pigeonhole that traps most of her comrades. It’s hard-earned, though, over many releases and tours with the likes of Josh Ritter and Ani diFranco, on whose label Hundreds of Lions appears. Some of her transcendence comes from her songwriting talent: she excels at writing songs that are just oblique enough to be quirky and fresh while still being universal. However, her success also owes something to the orchestral and jazz influences she’s been steadily adding to her music over the years. While her early work, such as the excellent Distillation, was primarily McKeown on vocals and guitar, she’s been experimenting with bigger sounds on her past few albums. Hundreds of Lions is her fullest album yet, though it wears all its fanfare on its sleeve.
On first listen, there was a dazzling presence to the songs as new, surprising elements kept emerging. After one listen, the songs were familiar. They each had something distinctive about them that stood out, and I found myself feeling like I already knew the album by the second listen. While it’s a tribute to McKeown that she doesn’t write the same song over and over, she also hasn’t left a lot of nuance and subtlety to be uncovered here. As lovely as the jazz-pop influences are, they contribute a certain hardness that multiplies in its proximity to her distinctive voice. She carries a tune well with said voice, but she’s not the sort of singer who transmits emotion easily in her voice; her delivery on Hundreds of Lionsis at the same level of emotional intensity no matter what the subject matter. One wonders whether that’s a product of McKeown’s quirky voice, her general personality, or her efforts at technical perfection and polish being so strong that she loses the energy to do it, as they say, once more with feeling....full text
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