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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Humphrey/McKeown - Tapesty of Shadows (2017)

Written by Lydia Hillenburg, posted by Jason


Heather Humphrey and Tom McKeown first began working together in 2006 and found some initial success working as a songwriting team and peddling their creations to a variety of artists. It wasn’t long, however, until they found themselves chomping at the bit to take their songwriting vision and do something with it themselves rather than feeling beholden to the whims and professional vagaries of another. It resulted in five albums, thus far, of uniformly high quality. The latest release from the duo, Tapestry of Shadows, is a twelve song affair with the sort of focus and wide ranging vision we typically associate with the greatest of artists and acts. Their sure-handed invocation of Americana music never follows a predictable path, but contains recognizable elements reaching out far from a mere regurgitation of the style’s trusty tropes. Tapestry of Shadows delves deep into universal human experiences and has a spark of the personal that will draw in many listeners.

The opening track makes this apparent. “Beautiful” doesn’t go in for any of the trite musical or lyrical explorations of the subject and, instead, hits a solidly soulful and melancholy note quite unlike anything happening today in the genre. The album’s third song, “You Don’t Know Me”, has a bittersweet sentiment conveyed by a musical arrangement placing a premium on imagination over obvious turns. Any predictability in the performance has a pleasing variety – listeners can come to expect it and admire how well Humphrey, McKeown, and their collaborators pull it off. “Flower on the Wall” has a more traditional slant than many of the other songs on Tapestry of Shadows, but it never smacks of the imitative. Instead, it serves as one more testament to the duo’s ability to refurbish traditional minded material in a thoroughly modern way.

“Someday” has a light, relaxed musical feel and the trading off of vocals between Humphrey and McKeown finds just the right balance for it to prove an entertaining listening experience. Their lyrical skills are always welcome – few songwriters, singly or in tandem, are so adept at balancing the disparate elements that go into making a great song while paying justified deference to all of them. One of the album’s high points, songwriting wise, comes with “Sasha on the Carousel”. This image-heavy song has a strongly personal air but, still, retains enough universality to allow everyone to enter into its world. The slight elegiac air pervading the track gives it a faintly sad air while never belaboring the emotion. “Passing Shadows” opens up with some hard-charging mandolin playing soon joined by some strong and simple drumming. The song does an exceptional job balancing its attitude between alternating Humphrey and McKeown vocals as well as different musical moods. The album’s finale, “Sunshine Today”, has a bright uplift quite different from the earlier songs but never so out of the ordinary that it doesn’t sound wholly consistent with what has come before. It’s an excellent finale for an album that personifies all the best qualities associated with the singer/songwriter or Americana form while avoiding all of its excesses.

Grade: A

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