Erin McKeown's last four albums featured her own songs, which blend rock, pop and folk. On her latest CD, Sing You Sinners, she reinterprets American standards.
McKeown first heard "Paper Moon" when a friend played it on a ukulele. Her band then did about six versions, ranging from bluegrass to waltz. "We basically beat up that song until it wasn't recognizable." Finally the band took the advice of drummer Allison Miller and settled on a Calypso beat.
For another song, Cole Porter's "Just One of those Things," the duality of the lyrics were the motivation. "[He has] this ability to be incredibly ironic and flippant and incredibly sad at the same time," says McKeown. Unlike Porter, who seems to write off the love affair at the heart of the song, she reinterprets it as an extremely painful experience.
"That's how I sing it," she says, "that I'm going to have to get over this thing but honestly can't."
McKeown says the album allowed her to be spontaneous, and to take a break from the self-imposed pressure to write her own songs.
A gifted singer/songwriter with a deft touch on the guitar, mandolin, piano and banjo, Erin McKeown calls herself a mix between Django Reinhardt and G. Love. But even that description only scratches the surface of her music's sly lyrics and rip-roaring swing.
After studying ethnomusicology at Brown University — and releasing a pair of fine albums independently — McKeown made her major-label debut with 2003's Grand. For her new album, Sing You Sinners, McKeown says she "stuck with things with strings, bringing in a slew of guitars and banjos" to give the band a simple, live feel. The music itself hearkens back to the Great American Songbook, with a lively, funny flair that's uniquely hers.