An excellent album of superb stories vividly told.
There’s a saying that “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” and the same could be said for Annie Keating’s eighth full-length album ‘Bristol County Tides’. If you just heard the first seven tracks then you’d think you were listening to a rollicking bar band in Anytown USA but then from track eight ‘Kindness’, the mood changes and the tempo slows and it’s a much gentler sound with ballads and acoustic instrumentation. It’s possible that this has been done on purpose and aimed at the vinyl market with the electric guitar and funky Hammond organ-led songs on side one giving way to a gentler mood on side two – or maybe it’s just happenstance?
Whatever the reason for the contrast, ‘Bristol County Tides’ is a superb album all round. Annie has a husky, raw voice that sounds as if it’s the culmination of many a cigarette over the years – or maybe it comes after years of singing in bars at full throttle? There’s a touch of Lucinda Williams about Annie’s voice but without that harshness that Williams’s has at times – Keating’s voice might be smoky and lived in, but it doesn’t have that car wheels on a gravel road edginess that Williams’s has. Keating has also been compared to Bonnie Raitt, Alison Krauss, and others but she has her own unique quality that makes her stand out from the crowd.
Recorded during the pandemic, the album features her regular band which is made up of Keating on acoustic guitar, Steve Williams on drums and percussion, Todd Caldwell on keyboards and Teddy Kumpel on various guitars, mandolin, and banjo. They’re ably supported by a number of other musicians on the likes of pedal steel, accordion, bass and others and Beth Callen and Natalie Keating Hawkins on backing vocals.
The fifteen tracks take the listener on a journey across America through Keating’s eyes from the opening track, the funky, rocky, bluesy, bar-room alcohol-fuelled ‘Third Street’ that features good-old boys Dwayne and Chris who’s “A friend to everyone except the dude who jacked weed from his garden” to ‘High Tide’ where the narrator wants to “Drive for a while with the music up loud”. There are also songs about kindness, friendship, family and the saga of ‘Hank’s Saloon’ where “If you’d like to get happy, the drinks start at noon”. After a journey featuring songs using different styles and textures, the album ends with the gentle acoustic ballad appropriately titled ‘Goodbye’ where Keating sings “Is the story over? Did we say goodbye?”
Keating is an excellent storyteller, and her lyrics ring true. Ally that with her unique voice, excellent melodies, and some fine musicians, ‘Bristol County Tides’ may be Keating’s eighth album but it’s fresh and it sounds like after all this time, Annie Keating still has stories to tell and the enthusiasm to tell them.