Dave Keegan – S/T Album Review

My journey on the Dave Keegan roller-coaster ride has seen several mirages in the desert, as hints and allegations of an album release had begun to look as likely as new material from Lee Mavers, J.D. Salinger, or The Rolling Stones. And with Mick Jagger’s motley crew ramping up for a new album – if this week’s rumours have it – we see Dave Keegan fighting in the corner of The Beatles with his debut solo album.

Has it proved worthy of the (15 years) wait?

I owe a great deal to Dave Keegan, and it’s safe to say if it weren’t for his kindness in letting me play a few of my own songs during his solo/Dave’n’Chris’or’Snaize/Hazzard County gigs, I doubt I’d have had my sleeping pill addiction for so long.

Hazzard County’s residency at the Old White Swan in York may well have been the best nights this city has seen for live music. Always predictable in what songs they would play, yet forever unpredictable in which head Dave would bring to the show. His performances ranged from acting like a prodigy gun-slinging teenager shooting cans from a log-pile, to a grieving misfit, wrenching every last ounce of pain from (lost) love songs. By the crescendo of Shot in the Arm or Who Do You Love, the audience were in the palm of his hands. Regulars watched, as passers-by stood mesmerised by his primal (country) scream, howling up at Venus, and down at the dust bowls his freight train rumbled through.

Dave Keegan Even Now EP

In the background, using minimal battery or CPU, Dave Keegan’s solo career/project/intent carried on. Stripped down versions of the covers Hazzard County played were performed, interspersed with solo tracks that stood out like Vivian Maier photographs in glossy Pixar scenes splattered around York’s burgeoning songwriter scene. The observational, often Escher-like lyrics that documented life on a carousel, watching the blissfully unaware burn out cars in their settled-down lives, as his own ambitions grew heavy under the weight of his own expectations of what he should and could record – there’s elements here of Lee Mavers and sessions being scrapped due to their not being 60s dust on the mixing desk. An EP arrived, with five glorious pop songs: Even Now, Sick Note, The Getaway, Vegas Nerve and Do That Again. The ‘Even Now EP’ contained tracks worthy of a Jellyfish release. Songs that had hooks straight outta the Mutton Birds’ guitar cases, and Jeff Tweedy’s loft. This really should have been when York’s walls came tumbling down and the UK had its own Tom Petty. Alas, it was the last official solo release before this debut album, well over a decade later.

In-between Even Now and the self-titled (intentionally?) debut album, there have been demos that had online releases on BandCamp – abandoned sessions that chew heavily at the same “grass is greener on the other side” meadows of Andy Partridge. Old tracks from Dave’s Lo Beams and Wooden Horse days even popped up on SoundCloud. The biggest releases were saved for (Hazzard Country’s) blood is thicker than water collaborative affairs. The Evernauts released the (what almost looked like 3 solo EPs from Dave, Simon Snaize and Chris Johnson) Northern County album, and Keegan/Snaize eventually birthed Portmanteau. Far from falling off the radar, these releases only led to further want for a full solo album from Dave Keegan, as old songs hopscotched across releases, desperate for more accommodating residence.

The story up until now I kind of dug at with my own track, In For A Penny. Having been referenced to in two songs of mine, this and Birds and Bee, I for one am fucking delighted to finally see the release of this album – with thanks to Sam Forrest for sneaky updates on what the heck was taking Dave so long.

Dave Keegan Album Cover, Photographed by Andy Gaines

Album cover photo by Andy Gaines

The album: Track by track.

Fans of the aforementioned band Jellyfish can hear Jason Falkner’esque charm in the opening track, Hello. Warm, fuzzy and a little woozy, it is a ‘safe hands’ opening track. To expect anything as cleanly recorded as Crowded House’s Woodface, whilst a definite influence on Dave’s knack for a lyrical couplet, is to expect a little too much – but go a little further to Together Alone and you might be closer to the warm glow of smoke around late night guitars on the beach, as this album’s embers of a fire’s dying light in the morning similarly also heralded the second coming of Justin Vernon as Bon Iver or Mark Everett as Eels. This album starts as it means to go on, confidently unsure of its place in this digital media world.

Never one to shy away from multi-part harmonies, Hello draws on West Coast vocal arrangements that The Thrills took a little too close to the mainstream some years ago. Should this be an unreleased album hawked around to A&R guys for established artists to ‘cover’, Hello could easily be the next Foo Fighter’s Everlong or stripped back to the bone for McCartney’s swansong release.

Under Your Skin, to me at least, shows Dave echoing the European take on writing English pop songs that dEUS have employed to perfection. Squeezing the fruit to a sweet pulp, its layered cocktail of guitars and simple drums (all performed by Dave himself) feels like a jam The Beatles might’ve had around a lost Lennon recording.

Early buzz around the album has centred largely around Fizzbomb – the best song the Eels forgot to record. In under 3 minutes there’s the enthusiasm of cult 80s kid’s movies meets Scott Pilgrim hijinks. It’s a comic book based movie soundtrack’s standout track. Think Stranger Things outtakes, with the cast and crew clowning around on 8mm tape, sped up as they thrash around the sets and Winona gets her groove back from Reality Bites’ garage forecourt scene.

Portmanteau is revisited on Harbour City Blues, as Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent and The E-Street Shuffle era lyrics meet Ryan Adams’ Stars Go Blue being played on 45rpm rather than 33rpm. Here is the album’s secret magic weapon that was The Cure’s Friday I’m In Love on Wish. A sun-drenched, post-rodeo ditty where the pretty girls dance with the bruised and boozed cowboys.

Echoes of Vegas Nerve’s kaleidoscopic guitar riff are transposed to the acoustic guitar here on Become The Night, as the most Neil Finn-like song Dave has perhaps ever penned comes to life with its Jon Hargreaves’ arranged strings. Close your eyes and you have Celine and Jesse dancing together in Vienna.

 

It’s A Lie has changed a lot since its early utterly heartbroken inception, where it showcased one of Dave’s best vocal performances. On this album, it is perhaps Sunday morning as opposed to Saturday night – again with strings – with its double tracked vocals, piano tinkerings and brushed snare hits. Less alco-pop and more Alka-Seltzer, It’s A Lie has grown up a lot over the preceding years from its starting at the school of hard knocks to its (The Connells 74/75) graduation party. Arguably the album’s strongest track – you can hear everyone from Chris Isaak to Craig Nicholls from The Vines covering this over the next year or two. Dare we get on the pulse and use a hashtag? #universal

Get Me A Gurl is unquestionably the direction Supergrass wanted to explore had it not been for the kids wanting Alright part 2. Dan Auerbach must also be kicking himself for not picking this song up when it came down from the ether. Check out the Big Star nod, too.

If you were to give me 50 songs that Dave was picking from to be on the album and asked me which would be one of the first he’d pick, I’d say Out Of Tune, without a doubt. Sounding as wounded as Burning Fields by Sam Forrest, it quickly ramps up into a Soft Bulletin bonus track with its Beatles-esque melodic drones, Hotel Lounge/Let’s Get Lost dEUS inspired lazy urgency, and “I’m Bill Hicks, who the fuck are you?” resignation at hecklers wanting something a little more mainstream MTV.

Static takes me back to The Getaway and Sick Note, when I really fell head over heels for Dave’s way of playing the acoustic guitar. The influence the string arrangements have across this album too are exceptionally lump-in-the-throat inducing, especially here, where along with wonky synths, a delicate lyric in a bottle finally finds a shore.

Wavelength had to be here, at the end. It’s almost like the drawing of a line that ends one era and marks the start of a new one. Personally, I’ve never heard a more emotional vocal performance from Dave than with this song, and its recording for the album is perfect. Double tracked vocals – again – add warmth to lonely lyrics and sparse guitar pickings, and the vocal harmony is delivered with a distant voice on the phone poignancy, perhaps one that every person will sing along with as they too watch an analogue signal flatline in a digital world.

After having waited for my whole recording and performing life as Marbled for this album, and now having lived with it for a very brief period too, it’s been well worth the wait. There have been moments throughout this listen that lead me to want to see a Keegan/Forrest album whilst Dave works on the next full solo album – both have an ear for a summer of love melody. Ultimately however, the years haven’t taken their toll on Dave, as he has delivered an album that shows his ‘Sea Change’ side stand shoulder to shoulder with his XTC record collection. It’s all here in these ten tracks and can be purchased shortly from https://www.davekeegan.com/ – I recommend you buy it!

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