Storytelling songwriting takes center stage on Annie Keating’s recently released Bristol County Tides. The album serves as an intimate journal of the writer’s contemplation of change, fear, and melancholy that swept over her and the world during the early days of the pandemic. Fleeing densely populated Brooklyn and taking refuge in Bristol County in coastal Massachusetts, Keating found inspiration in isolation and put her thoughts to good use through masterful lyrical crafting. All of this may lead a listener to prepare for a depressive collection of works. However, to her credit, Keating manages to infuse some rays of hope and wonder into the album to allow it to be contemplative, yet never oppressive.
Even the most cursory listen to Bristol County Tides will reveal Keating’s gift for capturing fleeting wisps of emotion and shaping them into lyrics. In the vein of Lucinda Williams or Bob Dylan, Keating uses her raw, slightly gritty vocals to transport the listener into the world within her songs.
For an album written during a time of reflective solitude, it starts out surprisingly up-tempo. Album opener, “Third Street,” is almost raucous as Keating introduces us to some of the more interesting characters of her new city. The track is full of funky blues guitar riffs and embraces the small-town mischief we’ve seen on so many Springsteen works. Meanwhile, “Blue Moon Tide,” goes in an even blues-ier direction thanks to flourishes of organ and its foot-stomping rhythm. In between, we find “Kindred Spirt,” a song that would feel right at home on Tom Petty’s Wildflowers. However, don’t let its gentler approach fool you—it has just enough electric guitar to qualify this one as a folk rocker.
Looking back, the full emotional impact of the pandemic didn’t set in immediately for most of us. The hope for a quick shutdown and restart slowly gave way to the grim reality that a lengthy battle was on our hands. That could be the fitting reason that Bristol County Tides has a big shift in both sound and spirit near its midpoint. The emotions get stronger and except for the day-drunk honky-tonker, “Hank’s Saloon,” and the quick return of blues guitar on “Lucky 13,” the tempo gets slower. Piano ballad, “Kindness,” features the brightest, cleanest vocals of the album, highlighting the touching lyrics. “Bittersweet” brilliantly captures the conflicting emotions of looking to the future while reconciling the sadness of leaving the past behind. Keating brings it all home with the folk ballad, “Goodbye.” The song isn’t a conclusion, just a step forward into the next chapter of Keating’s life. While it could be about looking towards the end of the pandemic, her resolution feels deeper. We’re left with a sense that through her musings, Keating has found a new clarity on life.
The album connects with the listener because it feels genuine. Annie Keating’s Bristol County Tides is earnest songwriting presented in honest fashion.
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Featured Image of Annie Keating By Ehud Lazin
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