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Sassy six-string slinger Erin McKeown's latest isn't as Grand as her 2000 debut promised. But see her anyway.

Wednesday, Jul 30 2003
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Erin McKeown enchanted critics and audiences alike with her saucy late-2000 debut, Distillation, an original brew of blues, folk, and old-timey jazz (à la western cowgirl swing). On that album, she epitomized the American troubadour tradition as a charming storyteller/songwriter, sassy six-string slinger, and one-of-a-kind vocalist with a catchy, full-bodied tone and clever melodic phrasing. But it was her unaccompanied live shows that were really magical. In concert, this girl (barely of drinking age on her first tour) seriously rocked, finger-picking the hell out of a gee-tar and cozying up to listeners like longtime friends.

Which is why her long-awaited follow-up, Grand, is a bit of a disappointment. Sure, tunes like "The Taste of You," "How to Be a Lady," and "Lucky Day" (a Judy Garland vehicle, of all things) bounce with the dirty-blues chord progressions of Distillation, and "Taste" particularly grooves with its Tin Pan Alley horn section and McKeown"s flirty lyrics: "I want a little taste of you ... that"s all." But about half the tracks -- especially "Slung-Lo," "A Better Wife," and "Born to Hum" -- are produced with superfluous overdubbed vocals and a too-glossy sheen that renders them barely distinguishable from the latest gems by any number of indie-pop chick singers.

Is McKeown dooming herself to mainstream homogeneity or will she strip away the polish from these new tunes live with her touring trio? Given her unquestionable raw talent, it will be well worth finding out.

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Sam Prestianni

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