Keegan McInroe – A Good Old Fashioned Protest
Self Released – 12 January 2017
In the pretty pessimistic epilogue to his 2010 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History Of Protest Songs, author Dorian Lynsky wrote “I began this book intending to write a history of a still vital form of music, I finished it wondering if I had instead composed a eulogy.” He need not have worried, songs of protest continue to make their presence felt in all types of contemporary music today, with, just occasionally, entire albums, such as this one, giving themselves over to what might be termed this sub-genre.
This Texas-based singer-songwriter has, over the past 10 years or so, built up a healthy reputation, both at home and in Europe, where he frequently spends his summers touring and performing at festivals. This, his fifth album, follows on from his highly-rated 2016 Uncouth Pilgrims release. Arrangements are sparse and stripped back throughout, with just Taylor Tatsch providing additional instrumentation and harmonies. Vocally, he is cut from the same cloth as Townes Van Zandt or Terry Allen, with a country, blues, folk-feel, whilst in terms of content, David Rovics might be a good comparison.
Whilst others might employ subtle metaphors, Keegan more often than not goes straight for the jugular with untempered, visceral lyrics resulting in Parental Advisories for explicit content on two tracks, be warned NFPW. In the liner notes, he states ‘This is a protest against war. It is also a protest against and comment on a number of other ills’, which here just happen to include the duplicity and lies of both the media and governments, together with law and order injustices and other malaises currently affecting us all.
Nailing his colours firmly to the mast on the opening track Talking Talking Head Blues, which aurally and politically resembles 1960s Arlo Guthrie, the listener is presented with 4 minute’s worth of Keegan‘s reflections on the relentless alt-right media frenzy, feeding questionable truths, (or should that be false news?), and demanding loyalty, allegiance and devotion across The Land Of The Free, all in the name of democracy. You can’t help but draw similar parallels with current United Kingdom Brexit issues or Catalonia sovereignty, thus emphasising the trans-geolocational relevance of the subject matter.
The similarly gritty Bombing for Peace would succeed as a stand-alone piece of poetry, with almost every line delivered as a cynical simile, ‘Bombing for peace is like an oil-spill for purity’, but as delivered here, it sounds initially like a Captain Beefheart ditty, before drums, bass and vocal harmonies develop it into something more akin to an acoustic country classic. Indeed, later on, the CD, with Nietzsche Wore Boots, McInroe does indeed provide a spoken word track.
Presenting as a keen observer of life, albeit layered with sarcasm, for example on the brief Bastards and Bitches, which despite its title brings a smile to one’s face with its wry humour, Keegan appears eager to use his words and music as a vehicle to raise awareness. This is well-exemplified on both Big Old River and The Ballad of Timmy Johnson’s Living Brother. Nor is he averse to attempting to appeal to the, by now, well-trodden path of World War One nostalgia, with his Christmas 1914 showing that he is more than capable of quieter, gentle songwriting and delivery.
Despite the angst and often acerbic content of the material outlined above, McInroe still leaves room for optimism, and in the last two tracks on the album, The Love That We Give and Keegan’s Beautiful Dream both of which reference moving from the darkness, one is left with the feeling that no matter how negative things may appear, a better world, even if not immediately beckoning, is at least feasible.
In an interview with The Dallas Observer, he was quoted as saying ‘I don’t perform as a political act, I’m there to entertain.’ I would graciously beg to question this assertion, in the sense that with this excellent release he has so patently succeeded in covering both.
‘We refuse to be quiet And we won’t go away’, he powerfully sings in the final song on the CD.
Here is an artist with something to say. Keegan McInroe has opened the dialogue and we should respond.