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Susan McKeown with Jon Spurney of The Chanting House
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         Susan McKeown
      Celtic High Priestess                       by Frank Goodman

I was living in Heidelberg, Germany in the mid 90s, playing with my brother Billy in a duo called the Goodman Brothers. We'd had a hot review of a good simple record (Crooked Smile, Taxim Records) in the German Rolling Stone, and it was relatively easy to hunt up work and stay alive. We'd go down to Italy and play some great dates, got into Switzerland a little. Take the train to Amsterdam now and then, white knuckle the border crossing back into the Fatherland. It was an interesting time and place. My best friends Sergio and Ingrid lived around the corner, they were Argentinians. We'd jam all the time, Ingrid was a real natural, she could bang on the window and make it sound musical. My German didn't get too good, but my Spanish sure picked up. After some time, I came back to Nashville, Billy stayed in Heidelberg, married Sabine. He still does a lot of playing over there, we do some dates together now and then.

One of the most interesting nights I remember over there involved our feature artist this month. We had a regular gig in town at this Mexican restaurant owned by a good Irish songwriter from Galway named Frank Pyne, he called the place Gringo's. They often had music at night in those days. It was mostly an expat crowd, a lot of Irish and American people, but a decent outreach into what we considered a hip local element.

So, Frank Pyne tells us we're doing something special this evening. An Irish artist living in NYC is coming through on tour, and he booked a show with her, great. So we open the show, get properly relaxed with our friends, and wait to see this trio do their thing. We'd met and heard them a little at soundcheck, as I recall. Lindsey Horner on upright bass, he was a scourge, a real monster, nice cat. Chris Cunningham on a Strat mostly, very musically savvy, superior tone. Can't remember how he did it, but his low E string was an octave lower, think it was just a really fat string tuned down. Sounded really good, really full. Freed the bassist up to do all manner of things, which he was obviously wont to do.

The artist, Susan McKeown, was an atmosphere unto herself, like a strong unsettling wind on a dark night in the country, save a sky full of stars. A barefoot raven with a healer's eyes and a conjurer's voice, strong and full, totally under control. Her movement onstage held my attention, as if it was designed to do so. The material was melodically and rhythmically sophisticated, the poetic lyrics seemed emotionally complex, sometimes they were in Gaelic. I'd not heard any Irish music the like of this. It was modern, urban, with deep, old, traditional roots. Not loud, but powerful. It was a brave sound, very full blown and complete to my ears.

I bought or traded a copy of Bones that night, can't remember. But I started listening to it rather regularly, and am still listening to it here in Music City seven years later. She has followed this very well received debut with 5 other records, three of them solo. Her second album [also on PrimeCD] is Through The Bitter Frost and Snow. It's a winter record, primarily bass and voice, uniquely tasteful. Then comes her first traditional release, for Alula Records, Bushes and Briars. A collaborative CD with Lindsey Horner follows, Mighty Rain. This is a duo recording from live performances in NYC coffeehouses, on Depth of Field (Koch). North Star Records put out a CD with Susan, Cathie Ryan and Robin Spielberg called The Mother Album.

Her second traditional album, Lowlands, [Green Linnet Records, 2000] is a real masterwork of Celtic and World musics by a fully realized singer and producer. Susan has attracted and combined a fantastic group of master musicians from every corner of the globe in fascinating combinations. Along with that, she's unearthed many rare and uncommonly poignant songs and breathed her special feeling for life into them.

We spoke at length and very extemporaneously about the many expert and inspired contributors to the timeless and precious tracks of Lowlands. Since we very inadvertently skip over him in the interview, I will say here that the magic lent by Mamadou Diabete on the African Kora was memorable, a truly special influence on the record. There's so much to be said about the magnificent cast of characters and songs on this disc that we also refer you to a page on Susan's website where she shares some facts and feelings on the subject.

Please take a little time to investigate some of the clips on the listen page from Lowlands. It's a remarkable recording of a visionary artist, who is a quintessential Irish singer, but also so very much more. continue to interview

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