Music : Kevin Keady quoth "The Raven"
A rendering of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" by Chappaquiddick's Kevin Keady makes a lot of sense. Apart from Mr. Keady's rich baritone that soothes and compels one to really listen to the poem, it's the passion with which he delivers it that makes it riveting.
Teaming up on this new one-song extended play release with fellow Vineyard musician Mike Benjamin, Mr. Keady says that they have essentially recorded a rap song, circa 1845. "You can almost hear Poe's contemporaries in the parlor saying, 'Yo, Edgar, bust that one regarding the raven, won't you?'" jokes Mr. Keady. All one has to do is listen to the first 60 seconds of Kevin Keady's "The Raven", and you'll agree. However, the use of modern day slang or Ebonics are thankfully nowhere to be heard.
"The words tumbled over themselves so naturally and the rhymes were so effortless that it was easy to forget it rhymed at all," Mr. Keady says.
Having committed "The Raven" to memory about 10 years ago, Mr. Keady decided four years ago to apply a simple chord progression to Poe's narrative: "Putting music to a pre-existing poem is not an idea that is new to me. Two of my influences - Allen Ginsburg and Greg Brown - both put music to the words of English poet William Blake."
When asked about his motivation for recording Poe's "The Raven" during this particular moment in his life, Mr. Keady explains that this year is the bicentennial of Poe's birth, and adds, "Calling to mind that Mike (Benjamin) helped produce and record my last two CDs, there really was no one else I could or would call."
When talking about the energy he and Mr. Benjamin had to muster to record a soundtrack to this classic piece of literature, Mr. Keady says he was more than prepared for a bit of a recoil from his multi-talented collaborator. "Who could blame him? Putting music to the simplest lyrics is difficult enough," he says, "let alone something in Olde English that clocks in at just under 14 minutes."
After the very first recording session, Mr. Keady decided to leave Mike Benjamin with some words of encouragement: "The more you read it, the shorter it gets." He was fully expecting his musical associate to call him the next day and tell him he didn't have the time to complete "The Raven" project. Four days later, he received a call from Mr. Benjamin telling him that he'd been working on "The Raven" and needed his approval to move forward with what he was doing. To his amazement, the music was all but completed. Just a little bit of tweaking here and there, some mixing, some waiting, and... voila!
"The project had almost come to a standstill because Mike and I had become very busy with summer projects and gigs," says Mr. Keady. "But that was okay. Summertime isn't necessarily the time for this sort of presentation anyway. The fall definitely is."
Perfectly timed for Halloween, "The Raven" is available at Aboveground Records in Edgartown, and it will be aired this Friday on WMVY during "Live, Acoustic & Covers."
But what's a project like "The Raven" without some serious symbolism? On the morning of the first recording session with Mike Benjamin, Mr. Keady received an unexpected visitor. "This large black bird got inside the house and couldn't get out. I did everything I could think of to get this creature safely outside where it belonged." Eventually, the trespassing bird flew outside. But the eerie parallel between that event and his scheduled recording of "The Raven" that evening was not lost on Mr. Keady.
Kevin Keady performs "The Raven," Saturday, Oct. 31, at 12 noon at The FARM Institute, Edgartown. Kevin Keady and The Cattle Drivers perform weekly throughout the winter at the Newes From America Pub in Edgartown. "The Raven" is available at Aboveground Records.
Ray Whitaker is a freelance writer living in Oak Bluffs.