Album review: Susan McKeown, ‘Belong’
Susan McKeown, “Belong” (Hibernian Music)
“Stunning” is probably one of the most overused words going, but I’m struggling for another one to describe the voice of Susan McKeown. Tremulous and rich, her almost operatic soprano smacks of early Emmylou Harris, but more sophisticated and somehow slightly sadder – and it rivets you from the second you hear it.
Mostly tales of love lost or never found, “Belong” is melodic and moving, drawing from classic country torch songs and Irish folk hymns – McKeown was born in Ireland – while nodding to the urban landscape of her current New York City digs: On “Lullaby of Manhattan,” a crushing waltz-time urban dirge, McKeown tells of being left only with “the sound of the refrigerator and the world outside.”
McKeown yodels sardonically (if such a thing is possible) through “Fallen Angel” – “they only see your fingers, I can see your fist,” she winks at her lover gone wrong, one of a series of clear-headed takedowns in her probing lyrics. But the highlight of “Belong” is probably “Our Texas,” about a couple’s “last great adventure” before parting ways.
It’s emblematic of an album that manages to see the beauty of romance even as it fades irrevocably into the distance. And yep, it’s stunning.
Peter Chianca blogs for Gatehouse Media’s Blogness on the Edge of Town and is author of “Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.