The mark of a great folk singer is the ability to tell a story. In a genre that is easy to imitate, this skill separates the stars from the scores of wanna-be Dylans who just don’t have it. But Billy Keane has it. Stripped of his band, local folk singer Billy Keane is left alone with his guitar on his latest EP. Without a full band to disguise his ability, Keane’s poetic voice is put to the ultimate test. As the album title suggests – Demos From the Attic all five of these songs are raw, not originally planned for release.However, after hearing high praise from his friends and fans, Keane decided to release them.

It is easy to see why fans were so enthusiastic. Despite being nothing more than single-track recordings with sparse backing vocals and percussion, Demos From the Attic is not sonically empty or emotionally weak. Most of the songs consist of Keane alternating between his fantastic crooning during choruses and his frank and enthusiastic talk-singing – similar to Bob Dylan’s various “talking blues.” His vocals glide coolly through satisfying melodies, which I have already found myself subconsciously humming throughout the day.

But Keane’s skilled vocals would be nothing without his well-constructed guitar lines, a healthy mix of fingerpicking and energetic strumming. As the driving instrumental force on this album, Keane’s guitar playing is guided by both technical skill and musical sensibilities. Keane shines brightest on the track “So Long, New York City,” in which he describes an escape from a lonely and artificial existence in Brooklyn in favor of a truly meaningful life in the natural world. He professes, “When I die I want God’s Earth to be the last thing that I feel.” He chooses mountains and fields over subways and skyscrapers. Keane moved to Brooklyn to attend college, but left after six months to find a “worldly education amongst the real.” He traveled across Africa and the United States in search of his truth, becoming a deep-sea commercial diver before returning to the Massachusetts music scene. “So Long, New York City” is sincere and powerful in a way only semi-biographical words can be.

It’s clear that Keane has the folk-singer’s gift of storytelling. On songs more removed from Keane’s own life, such as “Sparrow and Lady Owl” – a love story told as a tale of two birds–his skill is more diluted. Driven by a beautiful melody, “Sparrow and the Lady Owl” lacks the raw emotion and storytelling that was so powerful on “So Long, New York City.” Perhaps it would have been more prescient if Keane had sung from the point of view of the Sparrow. The final track,”The Governor’s Wife,” shows the success of such an approach. A song about the repercussions faced by the narrator after sleeping with the governor’s wife, this track is a lively dance-inducing number with urgency and emotion. Songs like this make attending a Billy Keane concert seem absolutely necessary. “King of the World (Grown Man),” a catchy blues song, and”Leave Your Light On,” a simple treasure with a fantastic melody, could only sound better in concert.

On Demos from the Attic it’s evident that Keane is a very talented songwriter. Equipped with nothing but his voice and guitar he can still hold his own. However, it would be nice to see Keane experiment more with his next album. With this release, Keane has now joined the ranks of many other skilled folk musicians such as Bob Dylan, Johnny Flynn, and The Tallest Man on Earth. However, as Oscar Isaac jokes in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, “If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.”

Album Review: Billy Keane - Demos from the Attic
  • Great Melodies
  • Honest and Personal Songwriting
  • Diverse set of songs
  • Some songs aren't very interesting
  • Often too Dylan-esque
7.6Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)

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