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Susan McKeown


Country of origin:

Ireland/U.S.A.

Type of music generally:

Traditional and neo-traditional Celtic

Status:

Most recent release, Belong (2012); she works with many other people and with her band, The Chanting House, so check these related sites for more release information

See also:

The Official Susan McKeown site

The Ectophiles' Guide entries for Susan McKeown's other projects: Susan McKeown and The Chanting House, her duo work with Lindsey Horner, her work with Cathie Ryan and Robin Spielberg, and her work with Johnny Cunningham

Comparisons:

There are the inevitable comparisons to other well-known Irish female vocalists such as Mary Black, as well as to legendary groups such as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. (meth@smoe.org)

Katell Keineg. (jsutton@rahul.net, kcd@cray.com)

Covers/own material:

Own traditional-based and traditional material, though well-placed covers crop up occasionally as well.

General comments:

Susan is the kind of artist when you first hear, you get the feeling you will be enjoying her music for years to come. I don't know how to describe her music, I hear a lot of different influences that she seems to have integrated into her unique music style. Her voice and some of her style reminds me a lot of Katell Keineg, another fine Irish artist. (jsutton@rahul.net)

There seems to be no limit to Susan's imagination and versatility. And no shortage of talented musicians who want to work with her. (hillaryj@mindspring.com)

Susan McKeown is someone whose work has always taken a while to grow on me—my ears require a period of time to get familiar enough with her songs and versions of traditional songs to appreciate them. Once I get familiar with them, though, I'm amazed how much I enjoy them. (Neile)

Comments about live performance:

I think she really impressed her first-time viewers. I had dragged along a friend who was extremely impressed. (3/99, Silme@ix.netcom.com)

When I'm sitting in a room watching Susan McKeown perform I am 100% sure that if a brick were to fall on my head in the next five minutes, I'll die happy. (12/00, meth@smoe.org)

Susan McKeown is FABULOUS live. (9/99, JoAnn.Whetsell)

'Twas a great show tonight, featuring several "brand new" traditional bits which will be on an upcoming acoustic album, as well as some faves from various places. No way I'll remember everything, but some of the highlights were "Seven Cold Glories," "Because I Would Not Stop For Death," "Through the Bitter Frost and Snow," "The Rivers of Ireland," and a real highlight for me, "Salome." A fabulous evening. (12/99, burka@jeffrey.net)

Susan's music is not the kind that attracts me instantly so I didn't enjoy the new songs live as much as I would have if I have known the music already. But the second part was mainly composed of old songs and it sent me flying high. (Yves.Denneulin@imag.fr)

Susan was in fine form with guitarist and fiddler in tow. Most of the songs were off the recent records—"In London So Fair" was amazing, "Sweet Liberty" so poignant, "Eggs in her Basket" missing the mariachi backing but still delightful. (7/04, gordodo@optonline.net)

Recommended first album:

Lowlands

Recordings:


Bushes and Briars

Release info:

1998—Alula Records—ALU-1008

Availability:

Stores in the U.S. that carry indie releases

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans of traditional Celtic music

Group members:

Susan McKeown

Guest artists:

Greg Anderson—guitar, cittern
David Bergeron—tuba
Larry Campbell—guitar
Samir Chatterjee—tabla, tambura
John Clark—French horn
Johnny Cunningham—fiddle
Seamus Egan—whistles, bodhran
Hassan Hakmoun—vocal wail
Andy Irvine—mandolin
Nikki Matheson—background vocals
Mick McAuley—accordion
Don McGeen—bassoon
Jerry O'Sullivan—uilleann pipes
Akira Satake—mandocello
Jamshied Sharifi—keyboards, wind arrangements
Chris Speed—clarinet
Skuli Sverrisson—bass, e-bow bass
Ben Wittman—percussion
Tom Zajac—hurdy-gurdy

Produced by:

Jamshied Sharifi, Akira Satake, and Susan McKeown

Comments:

Bushes And Briars is a top-notch collection of traditional tunes from the Irish, Scottish, and English musical lexicons, and Susan has gotten a list of heavy hitters to join her, including Johnny Cunningham, Seamus Egan, Andy Irvine, and Jerry O'Sullivan. Her gorgeous voice soars above it all, and she employs non-traditional instruments (bass, tabla, tambura, bassoon, even tuba :) in such a way that the songs sound fresh and new, yet they're undeniably trad tunes. I highly recommend this album to all fans of Susan's music, as well as to fans of Celtic music. Some of it really reminds me of Loreena McKennitt. I'm not surprised that some people haven't been all that enthused by it at first. When I first listened, on the way home from a concert I wasn't too excited about it either. After the stunning live performances of the songs I'd heard, the fleshed-out arrangements (especially on the title song) were rather jarring. However, when I had a chance to listen again and treat the songs on their own, apart from the live versions I had to slap myself and wonder what the hell I'd been thinking. :) It's not going to please the trad purists, sure, but that's fine with me. There are many truly wonderful moments on this album, and I highly recommend it to all. The new songs are every one of them amazingly good. My absolute favorite is "Seven Cold Glories", which is one of those grab-you-and-make-you-LISTEN-and-leave-you-breathless-at-the-end songs. "There's a god up there, and god I wish it was mine"—yow. Traditional Celtic music with Susan's distinctive twist. It's brilliant through and through. "Enchanting" is a good word to describe it. Wonderful stuff. (meth@smoe.org)

After listening to the cd over and over (and over) I've certainly come to appreciate the more complex arrangements quite a bit more and I really do love the album. At first I loved the songs with the simpler or more traditional arrangements, but some of the others just didn't click with me right away. I didn't dislike them, but I think I needed to get used to them. Over time this album has become my favorite, I think. (mcurry@io.com)

I've had the copy of Bushes & Briars for nearly a week now, and haven't had enough time to listen to it as much as I'd like to. Her recently released recording ventures have really displayed the wide palette of her voice (bad analogy, but its Sunday nite :-). Pretty amazing! If you like more traditional music, where the vocals are a major instrument in the mix, with the lyrics expressing still-contemporary emotions, but in older, sometimes more simple and somewhat more eloquent ways (when I can understand them in English ), you'll love the new album. (candre@enteract.com)

All traditional material. Veers toward world-beat and other interesting arrangement choices, but not in the way, say, Loreena McKennitt has gone. Enchanting. I instantly adored it. I can't figure out why people are having mixed and/or slow-to-warm reactions to it. I love the arrangements, I love the selection of tunes, and I love Susan's voice. I think the only song on here I was familiar with in advance "Banks of Claudy," thanks to Loreena McKennitt's fabulous version and it's nice to hear a same-yet-completely-different take on it, at least arrangement-wise. (burka@jeffrey.net)

Haunting Celtic music from one who knows. (rkonrad@ibm.net)

It took quite a few listens until I started to like Bushes & Briars, but it grew on me pretty fast, and it is my favourite of her albums. I like the way she combines traditional songs with some not so traditional elements, and it reminds me a bit of Anita Best and Pamela Golden's wonderful cd The Colour of Amber, though I'd guess that's more traditionally traditional if that makes sense. (Marion)

Bushes And Briars revvs up the Celtic traditional part of me as only Susan Mckeown's special flare can do. (jsutton@rahul.net)

I'm quite thrilled by Bushes And Briars!!! (tonttupix@hotmail.com)

I want to thank Jeff Burka for recommending Bushes & Briars as the next McKeown cd to listen to—it spent about a year in my car CD player and I went from tolerating it to not being able to get the songs out of my head at all (it drove me crazy so I had to take it out of the car). (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)


Lowlands

Release info:

2000—Green Linnet Records—GLCD 1205

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susan McKeown—vocals, finger cymbals

Guest artists:

Aidan Brennan—guitar
Mamadou Diabate—kora
Johnny Cunningham—fiddle
Joanie Madden—whistle, low whistles
Matt Darriau—kaval, Irish flute, clarinet, gaida, bass clarinet
Ole Mathisen-clarinet
Jamshied Sharifi—synthesizer, wind arrangement
Skúli Sverisson—electric bass
Benjamin Wittman—percussion
Gerry Leonard—guitars, guitar loops
Greg Anderson—bouzouki
Paddy League—bodraán
Todd Schietroma—chaones, shakers, caxixis, handclaps
Des Moore—guitar
Éilis Ega—box
Samir Chatterjee—tablas
Olivar Straus—handclaps
Glen Moore—acoustic bass
Wang Guowei—erhu
Eamon O'Leary—banjo
John Anthony—caxixis
Lúnasa:
     Donogh Hennessy—guitar
     Kevin Crawford—whistles
     Seán Smyth—fiddle
     Trevor Hutchinson—acoustic bass
Michelle Kinney—cello
Cillian Vallely—uilleann pipes

Produced by:

Susan McKeown

Comments:

Susan McKeown's latest is just *fabulous*, and well worth the wait (and what a wait it's been).
     Definitely in the Bushes and Briars vein, but with more odd instruments from 'round the world then you'd find on an old Kate Bush album.
     I must say it's nice to hear the lusher arrangements of many of the songs I've seen Susan perform over the last 10 or so months.
     I'd say rush out and buy it, but I pretty much say that about any Susan McKeown album, so if she's not your cup of tea, just ignore me. (burka@jeffrey.net)

Susan McKeown's work has continued to grow on me over time, and I can say that I loved this album from first listen. Her versions of traditional material are powerful throughout. It's truly amazing to me that with this album I'm appreciating her more and more and starting to make what for me is the ultimate comparison for a traditional singer and singer-songwriter—to Sandy Denny, one of my vocal goddesses. Sandy Denny was a fine songwriter in her own right but was also an incomparable interpreter of traditional (and other neo-traditional and poprock) songs, bringing them to new life and making them her own. This album shows Susan McKeown has the same power. If you get any Susan McKeown or any traditional album, get this one. It's in the Bushes and Briars vein, but Bushes and Briars didn't have the immediate impact on me that this one has had. (Neile)

Susan returns to where Bushes and Briars left off, interpreting traditional Celtic music in her own uniquely eclectic way. Adding instruments as diverse as the erhu and kora to the more expected fiddles and whistles was a stroke of genius. Over it all, Susan's voice sounds lovelier than ever—finally, her handlers have managed to capture in the studio how wonderful her voice is in live performance. If anyone harbors any doubt that Susan McKeown is one of the most important Irish musicians out there today, they need to listen to this CD just once.
     One of her most consistently good albums. There's not a weak track on the disc. I know that in the past she has had to make compromises regarding which takes she had to use on the final product, either due to time constraints or other factors. This has led to some of her a cappella tracks sounding shouted rather than sung. A couple tracks on Lowlands toe the line, but they never cross over to the land of the "skip" button.
     Lowlands is going to be *very* high on my list of top albums of the year. (meth@smoe.org)

Lowlands is great by the way—probably one of her most consistently good albums. A great album by a really great singer, but whose studio recordings have never really impressed me until this one. I've always liked them, but were never really wowed. This captures the beauty, strength and fragility of Susan's voice—the fragility which was lacking in most of her previous recordings. Her voice is much warmer—on some of the earlier recordings there is a harshness in her voice that I found somewhat grating at times, but I think it has more to do with how they record her voice than her actual voice—I've never heard that harshness in concert. Favorite Track: "The Snow that Melts the Soonest". (jjhanson@att.net)


Sweet Liberty

Release info:

2004—Hibernian Music/World Village—468029

Availability:

Wide in U.S.

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for traditional folk fans

Group members:

Susan McKeown—vocals, bodhrán

Guest artists:

Susan Allen—alto flute on 1 trck
Brian Finnegan—flute on 1 tracks
Ed Boyd—guitar on 1 track
John Joe Kelly—bodhrán on 1 track
Eamon O'Leary—guitar on 2 track
Dana Lyn—fiddle on 2 tracks
Lindsey Horner—bass on 2 tracks
Aiden Brennan—guitar on 3 tracks
Dee Armstrong—fiddle on 1 track
Joanie Madden—whistles on 2 tracks
Jon Spurney—harmonium on 2 tracks, piano on 1 track
Faimata Walett Oumar—tinde, solo vocalist on 1 track
Ag Mohamed Aboubacrine—chorus, hand-clapping on 1 track
Idwal Ag Mohamed—tehardant (lute) on 1 track
Mohamed Issa Ag Oumar—guitar on 1 track
Issa Amanou—tehardant (lute), chorus on 1 track
Fatoumata Haidara—chorus, hand-clapping on 1 track
W. Mohamedun Faimata—chorue, tinde, hand-clapping on 1 track
Walet Amounine Mama—chorus, hand-clapping on 1 track
Tafa Walett Alhousseini—imzad (violin), chorus on 1 track
Ramon Ponce Jr—guitar, guitarron, vihuela on 1 track
Gabino Samano—violin on 1 track
Israel Torres—trumpet on 1 track
Charlie Giordano—accordion
Johnny Cunningham—fiddle on 1 track
Oliver Straus—drum loop on 1 track

Produced by:

Susan McKeown

Comments:

Another fine and strong collection of songs done with Susan McKeown's unique vocals and flair. I'm particularly fond of "Oro Mhile Cra/A Thousand Times My Love"—a mix of Irish with Malian accents. I haven't much liked other mixes of African music with Celtic, but here it really works for me. This is a charming album and recommended for all fans of traditional music and fine singing. (Neile)

The Sweet Liberty CD is wonderful. (meth@smoe.org)


Blackthorn: Irish Love Songs

Release info:

2006—World Village—468054

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susan McKeown

Guest artists:

Edmar Castenada—harp
Eamon O'Leary—guitar, electric guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, banjo
Cormac Breathnach—low whistle
Dana Lyn—fiddle, viola, harmonium
Lindsey Horner—bass
Robbie Harris—percussion
Róisín Chambers—additional vocals
Xuacu Amieva—trompa, rabel
Steve Cooney—guitar
Igor Oxtoa and Harkaitz Martinez—Txalaparta
Don Meade—harmonica

Produced by:

Susan McKeown

Comments:

Blackthorn is by far my favorite of Susan's traditional albums. I'm not quite sure what it is, but I know that with the others, there are certain songs I like a lot and others I don't like at all. Here I appreciate the album as a whole. It creates a certain kind of soothing mood, even though some songs are sad and others more up tempo. The arrangements are incredibly beautiful, very spare—Susan's voice, often accompanied by just one or two people on fiddle, harp, or guitar. The booklet is also nicely done, with lyrics, translations, and notes. Highly recommended for fans of Susan or traditional Irish music. (JoAnn Whetsell)

It's Susan in trad mode, with some of the songs being hundreds of years old. The vast majority of the songs are sung in Gaelic, and the arrangements are often quite sparse.
     One interesting angle are the couple of songs that she works on with musicians from Northern Spain (Asturias and Basque regions). They have very different arrangements and unique instruments. (neal)


Singing in the Dark

Release info:

2012—Hibernian Music—7 08434 06084 2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susan McKeown

Guest artists:

Ryan McGiver—acoustic guitar (1, 3, 7); guitar (12)
Erik Della Penna—electric guitar (1, 3, 7); acoustic guitar (1, 11); guitars (8)
Cillian Vallely—low whistles (1); Uillean pipes (3)
Eamon O'Leary—bouzouki (1, 12); banjo (3)
Lorin Sklamberg—accordion (1)
Shahzad Ismaily—bass (1, 3, 6, 7, 11); drums (3, 6, 7, 11); percussion (3); background vocals (6); harmonium (7, 11)
Stefan Amidon—drums (1)
Doug Wieselman—guitars (2, 6); bass clarinet (7); electric guitar (11)
Jason Sypher—bass (2, 12)
Allison Miller—drums (2, 4, 10)
Sonelius Smith—piano (4, 10)
Lindsey Horner—bass (4, 10)
Steve Cooney—guitars (5)
Michelle Kinney—cello (6)
Isabelle O'Connell—piano (9, 11)
Ross Bonadonna—bass clarinet (11)

Produced by:

Susan McKeown

Comments:

I hesitated to buy this album for a long time because I thought an album about depression, while a worthy and interesting project, would be a depressing listen. Fortunately that's not the case (I've even read reviews complaining that the music isn't dark enough). Musically, it's quite varied—jazz, Latin, even a classical piece with a Renaissance sound. Lyrically, the artists represented vary in time, culture, and language. Listening closely, you can dive into the writer's experience, which is, admittedly, easier on sparser, haunting songs like "The Crack in the Stairs." And the liner notes help.
     Depression is often hidden from view as the sufferer presents a brave face to the world. So it's not so strange that the music is not as melancholy as the lyrics. It's in some ways a fitting juxtaposition. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Belong

Release info:

2012—Hibernian Music—7 08434 06085 9

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susan McKeown

Guest artists:

Declan O'Rourke—guest vocals (1)
Brendan O'Shea—acoustic guitar (1, 3, 9)
Erik Della Penna—electric guitar (1, 3); acoustic guitar (9)
Justin Carroll—Wurlitzer (1, 3, 9); Hammond organ (1, 3, 10, 11); mellotron (1)
Jason Sypher—bass (1, 3, 9, 11)
Shahzad Ismaily—drums (1, 3, 9, 11); harmonium (4, 6)
Aidan Brennan—acoustic guitar (2, 4, 5); guitar (6-8, 10)
Doug Wieselman—electric guitar (2, 4, 10, 11); banjo (4)
Michelle Kinney—cello (2, 4, 8)
Lindsey Horner—bass (2, 4-8, 10)
Allison Miller—drums (2, 4-8, 10); percussion (2, 4, 6)
James Maddock—guest vocals (3)
Dirk Powell—accordion, banjo (3)
Jimi Zhivago—piano, Hammond (4)
Erin McKeown—acoustic guitars (5)
Ray Santiago—piano, conga, bell, maracas (7)
Ryan McGiver—acoustic guitar (11)
Eamon O'Leary—banjo (11)

Produced by:

Susan McKeown

Comments:

I like this album more each time I listen to it (though my attention still seems to drop off a bit towards the end). Musically varied, it's got country, Latin, and, best of all, shades of her work with The Chanting House. (JoAnn Whetsell)

One of the best albums of the year. (jjhanson@att.net)


Further info:

Susan McKeown also appears on Peter & Wendy by Johnny Cunningham, from the Mabour Mines Theatrical Adaption of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan.

Susan McKeown has been working on a sort of ethno-ambient, Irish songs in English and Gaelic with modern arrangements project called BOWSIE with guitarist Gerry Leonard.

There's an email discussion group for Susan McKeown. To subscribe send an email to majordomo@smoe.org with a body of "subscribe curiouser" OR "subscribe curiouser-digest".

Email Susan McKeown at chanting@earthlink.net.


Thanks to Meredith Tarr and JoAnn Whetsell) for work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2014-03-30 02:14:13.
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