There's a lot going for this CD even before you manage to wrest the disc from its Old Salem seaport-spooky liner. First of all, the sessions were recorded in the basement of an old brothel in Douglas, Mass., a locale Babe Ruth frequented when he was athirst for a bit o' moon. Second, Keyes isn't an NPR type, being unhappy with its self-righteous smarminess, and well should he be, especially with that smug prick Robert Siegal. Neither is he terribly blissed-out over hippy types or even Pete Seeger. Well, I'm still a hippy (hard to tell anymore with my bald pate) who had far more than his fair share of fistfights and hardscrabble and likes the whole Seeger family, 'specially Peggy, but I admire a man who speaks his mind and has reason to back it, so I started liking this guy right off the bat.
Then there's the rough grit of Ruminations, a tough no-bullshit set of songs sitting pissed and drunken between Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, and Waylon Jennings, most of the tracks stripped down to basics and hiding from nothing. A gaggle of musicians pitch in, lending various hands, but the bulk of the disc is just Keyes minimally multi-tracking with dusty grace and coal mine simplicity, even muttering his narrative during Chapter Six, garbling just below an infectiously leering slide guitar atop a Peter Gunn-ish themeline.
Every so often there erupts a surprising delicacy, as in the uncredited interlude between Where Have You Been and the stridently urgent Black Ceiling, a segue that puts lace in the windows just before storm winds blow, Keyes' voice hoarse with anger and warning. A rage for justice? No, the singer expects nothing short of apocalypse to resolve his and our manifold troubles, as evidenced by When Will I be Free and the martial stomp-drums of Little Lamb, so don't expect a whole lot of reassurance to break the bleak dark mood of this coarse diamond; rather, take the opportunity to fall backwards into an existential autumn and let the shadows draw you down. It's an experience you need.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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