CD: 13 Songs; 49:52 Minutes
Styles: Gospel and Soul-Influenced Blues, Piano Blues, Roots Rock
The cover art of Mississippi native Beth McKee’s latest release, Sugarcane Revival, depicts the silhouette of a raven standing on a post. Upon the raven’s shadowy body, a sugarcane field blazes, the flames reaching as high as those of any forest fire. One might expect the CD inside to contain songs featuring dark themes, but the exact opposite is true. McKee and her posse will bring listeners’ world-weary spirits back to life with her heartfelt take on Gospel and soul blues, piano blues, and roots rock. She often resembles Bonnie Raitt, in the lower range of her vocals, but Beth doesn’t possess Bonnie’s versatility on the high notes. Her down-to-earth approach is refreshing in these days of slick studio editing. Some might call her sound derivative, but there’s no doubt of her sincerity or passion for music.
Her website reveals: “The appeal of her honest vocals and roots-y piano style was evident on McKee’s previous solo albums, Next to Nowhere (2012) and I’m That Way, the 2010 tribute to Chess Record’s Louisiana legend Bobby Charles. McKee used the albums to establish a solo career after her 1990s success with New Orleans-based MCA Records act Evangeline.”
On thirteen original tracks, Beth McKee performs as lead singer, on acoustic and electric pianos, Hammond organ, and accordion. Also featured are Juan Perez on drums and percussion; bassists Dan Walters, Barry Dean, Tony Battaglia, Todd Warsing, Justin Beckler, and Tommy Malone; guitarists Battaglia, Malone, Beckler, Tim Kelliher, and Tim Lee; John Tegethoff on additional organ; Jason Thomas on fiddle; Charles DeChant on saxophone; Rhonda Lohmeyer on mandolin; Tim Kelliher on ukulele; and additional vocals by Malone, Gerry Williams, Nicole Johnson, and Claire Wofford; and handclaps by Luke and Claire Wofford, Becca Spiegel, and Mackie Price.
The following songs will get blues fans’ blood pumping and mood jumping to great heights:
Track 01: “Long Road Back” – Beth McKee’s primary talents are as a vocalist and pianist, as the album’s opener clearly demonstrates. “Well, it’s a long road back, Highway 49. And there’s a whole lot of miles lying ahead and behind. I’m on my way, and I’m running out of time.” Sounds like life, and not merely a homeward journey. Treasure the full weight of every instrument in this chorus of hope and regret.
Track 05: “Nobody Knows Like Me” – Even the most innocent flirtation with trouble can land one in a world of hurt: “Nobody knows the lure of surrender when you’ve lost your sense of self-will. Nobody hears the bargain being struck when conclusion’s at the heart of the deal.” With a smooth, jazzy piano refrain and guitar flair, track five reaches out to the hidden downtrodden, offering them a flame of hope in a world that’s often ice-cold.
Track 09: “And Everything Changed” – The biblical Eve, Moses, and the prophet Ezekiel all faced cataclysmic events that turned ordinary life into an extraordinary experience: “And everything changed. It was a whole new game. The journey had begun…” Coupled with this inspiring chorus is Charles DeChant’s sensational saxophone.
The raven on Beth McKee’s new CD cover says, “Sugarcane Revival is caw-caw-COOL!”