135 W 26th St. Suite 11B
New York, NY 10001
A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By Kyle Rudgers
Vicky Pratt Keating's music is so different, and so adventurous, that you find yourself drawn in by the sheer uniqueness of it. With that, her insight is as tremendous as any poet's. On "Blue Apples," she takes elements of Nanci Griffith, Tori Amos, and XTC, shakes them up, and builds an album that offers her own observations on the joys of living and the pain of love. Her use of unusual time signatures and syncopation provide a rhythmic bounce most contemporary acoustic musicians wouldn't attempt. As a native of the Washington, DC area, I have a soft spot for those musicians and artists who come out of that homogeneous society with a style all their own. Keating certainly qualifies.
A standout track is "NY 10/11/91." With her remarkable gift for imagery, in the first verse Keating captures the essence of love, both good and going sour:
It was a cold time. He put the clock
in the refrigerator where he
could not hear it tick and tock.
Pulled down the covers,
we went over the moon.
I don't know why, I don't know why
I don't know why I am not in love with you.
It's a simply rendered song, with Keating on guitar and vocals and backup from ace guitarist Pete Kennedy. They produce a piece as chilling and heartbreaking as any I've heard since Dar Williams' "February." "Rough Draft" is more upbeat musically, but carries the same message of frustration. It has a chorus which seems to sum up her view towards love in general:
I am a queen in beggars rags. . .
I have no king I have no subjects
the jester cannot make me laugh.
Love is still a very rough draft.
The singer admits, though, "I know it's out there somewhere."
As much as the love songs reflect the soul of a person whose heart has been broken, other pieces reflect an optimism hard to resist. Many of her songs are poetic evocations of simple things. "Boy With a Kite" is a fun, bouncy song about, well, a boy with a kite. "Into the Amazon" shows the beauty of that river's lands and those creatures which live there. In several of her songs she takes the specific and turns it into the universal in an unforced manner. For example, in "Sylvie" (which is subtitled "For Sylvia Plath"), the singer uses that poet's tragic end to examine circumstances which could bring anyone to the breaking point. There is only one track that does not meet the high standards of the rest of the album. Called "Shoot for the Moon," it's a flaccid song that doesn't have the rhythmic or melodic excellence which make the rest of the disc so exciting to listen to.
The music is clear, thanks to the fine production work by Vicky and Bob Read. Good thing, too, since one of Keating's strengths is her musical adventurousness- along with the traditional guitars, drums, bass, she includes uillean pipes, bazouki, kalimba, and log drums. Never does the album sound overproduced, or as if anyone were showing off. It all works organically.
Vicky Pratt Keating refers to her music as quirky, and certainly when compared with the image of a hyper-sensitive, navel-gazing singer-songwriter, "Blue Apples" would meet her qualification. For those who like a little zing with their music, "Blue Apples" is a great place to find it.
Edited by Kerry Dexter