Kevin Keating – Simple Place

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The second studio release from New York based singer/songwriter Kevin Keating, Simple Place, is pure singer/songwriter style at its best. We’re greeted with just his voice and an acoustic guitar but, despite the lean musical content of the collection, few listeners will find themselves bored with the experience. Simple Place is, instead, an immensely rewarding array of songs that never follow a predictable path. Keating’s voice is far from typically beautiful, but he emotes quite effectively and his phrasing fills his sharply observed lyrics with attention grabbed, yet understated, dramatics. He’s a multi-instrumentalist and that level of musicality seems to pour out of Keating in a variety of ways, but his penchant for a memorable melody definitely sets him apart from the pack. Kevin Keating’s Simple Place comes across as a low key effort, but a closer listen reveals something different – a muted, yet ambitious, musical ride helmed by a powerful and first class songwriter.

“Ocean Eyes” gives us a clear look at his poetic gifts. Keating is particularly adept at bringing a compelling point of view together with specific imagery and few, if any, songs on Simple Place are as balanced in this aspect as “Ocean Eyes”. His guitar playing, as well, deserves mention for its stunning mix of direct and warmly recorded chords alongside tastefully melodic playing. “Roger’s House” shares some of those same merits, but it has more character development than we heard in the first song. Keating sings about his subjects, in these first two songs, with an immense warmth and obvious love for the imagery and storytelling. “Seventy Years” is the culmination of this sort of approach with the most ambitious songwriting marriage of character and imagery yet married to absolutely exquisite guitar playing. His vocal for this song rates high amongst his strongest singing performances on Simple Place.

Things take a decidedly darker turn with the litany of hell depicted in “Soldier’s Homecoming” and, true to Keating’s grounding in folk song traditions, longtime lovers of this form will recognize his contribution to an important and frequent topic for songs of this ilk. “Standing Ground” is, easily, the most downbeat musical moment on Simple Place and Keating does every bit of the same astounding job depicting and framing his subject as he managed on the preceding song while shifting his language away from the brutal directness of “Soldier’s Homecoming” into a more poetic, but still unsparing, dialogue. The EP’s finale comes with “We the People”, a clear-eyed but nevertheless optimistic closer that inspires Keating to reach for another of Simple Place’s best singing performances. Kevin Keating emerges from Simple Place as one of the best songwriters working in the indies today and this is the sort of well crafted release that may spread his name far beyond his East Coast/Northeastern United States stronghold and place him in the consciousness of listeners across the nation and world.

Joshua Stryde