Music : Just plain folk
Kevin Keady's new album, "That I Might Sleep Tonight," resounds with the political unease of 1960s folk music without tempering its old-fashioned country exuberance. Ironically, the tracks that seem most intent on making a statement are also the best ones for dancing.
Recorded this past spring, Mr. Keady's fourth record does not mark a great departure from his previous work, though it arguably sounds the best. The guitars are big and bright, Mr. Keady's voice is powerful and clear, and his backup band, the Cattle Drivers (Mike Tinus on bass, Becky Barca-Tinus on fiddle, Buck Shank on Mandolin, and Don Groover on Banjo), sound tight and energetic. The result is especially impressive considering that the tracks that feature the band were recorded live. Without ever coming close to sounding over produced, the album achieves clarity, warmth, and energy - three things that really go a long way when it comes to making records.
The album's sound is due in great part to the work of Mike Benjamin, a well-known Island musician who proves here to be quite a versatile one. Not only does he engineer, produce, and mix the album, but he also plays electric and acoustic guitars, bass, organ, harmonica, percussion, and sings a little backup.
Martha's Vineyard Times file photo
"I really feel fortunate to be working with him," says Mr. Keady. "He's just terrific. He sort of acts as an editor."
Like its songs, the album's cover is refreshingly uncluttered. Other than the title, it contains just one crooked line - the roofline of Mr. Keady's house. Built in the '30s, the converted hunting shack on a farm in Chappaquiddick serves as the logo for his label, Camp Records. He used it for his cover, he explains, as "a way to hearken back to the other three CDs."
Someone who heard the record described it to Mr. Keady as having a "settled tone." The songwriter agrees. "I think there's a certain element of feeling like this is just what I do, and I'm going to keep doing it, prodding along," he says. "It has a little less urgency. I'm not going to save the world. It's a nice place to be; it feels good."
Yet the album's opening track, "Coyote Stick," is markedly unsettling. While the upbeat groove makes you feel like dancing, the lyrics make you feel like locking your doors. "There's a break in the food chain/ Woods are closing in/ Playgrounds aren't for playing anymore/ They're lurking in the bushes/ They're creeping through the woods/ Eating all the dog food outside my backdoor."
Except for the advice Mr. Keady offers during the chorus on how one should protect oneself ("Carry a coyote stick"), he never actually refers to which "menace on the prowl" he's talking about. Because the music is fun, listeners probably won't register the song's admonitory lyrics as social commentary - at least not until they hear the rest of the album.
In the fourth track, "Not in My Name," Mr. Keady moderates a conversation between two controversial figures, during which George (W. Bush) asks Jesus who he should bomb, to which Jesus remarks "You're giving me the credit and bringing me the blame/ Not now not ever no, not in my name."
"Java Junkie Beware" warps listeners to July 4, 2012, on the day the government outlaws coffee. It is during this song that Mr. Keady sounds like he's having the most fun. "There were too many people driving buzzed on caffeine/ Creamers and sugars at the accident scene/ The research is finished/ New studies conclude/ It will mess with your mind/ It will alter your mood." Mr. Keady goes on to describe the inflated taxes that result from having to convert schools and hospitals into prisons to accommodate the skyrocketing number of criminals.
Another highlight is the title track, "That I Might Sleep Tonight." A while back Mr. Keady asked a friend how he was doing - his friend's response was the inspiration for the album. "He said, 'just trying to get a good night sleep. Isn't that all anyone's trying to do?' That stuck with me for a long time," remembers Mr. Keady.
The lyrics begin, "Take me to the field/ Let me separate the soil and the snow/ I work through sun and shower/ Until I feel the aching in my bones/ Wear my body down today/ So that I might sleep tonight."
Mr. Benjamin's sustained guitar work is warm and bright - in fact, it feels quite like morning light; and Mr. Keady's voice and words resonate most when he sings about working in nature.
"That I Might Sleep Tonight" is available at Aboveground Records.