Erin McKeown first gained attention as a folky singer/songwriter, albeit one who crafted tunes with considerable pop music charm. Her music has expanded over the years, becoming more inclusive of styles like bluegrass, blues, jazz, classic pop, swing, reggae, and light rock. Her last studio effort, Sing You Sinners, was a collection of cover tunes from the '30s and '40s, putting her distinctive, throaty alto to good use with inventive arrangements that combined all of her musical interests.
McKeown continues to distinguish herself with clever lyrics and instrumentation rigeur, but on her latest, Erin McKeown offers a few blossoms in the brush. While the lush instrumentation on openers “to a Hammer” and “santa cruz” is bright and pleasant, and the playful rockabilly number “the Rascal” is a foot-stomping good time, Hundreds of Lions truly shines as it begins to slow down. On “you, sailor,” the strong-willed and witty McKeown softens with gentle vocals and the stunning hum of whistles and strings.
Erin McKeown is one of a few contemporary folksingers who has transcended the pigeonhole that traps most of her comrades. It’s hard-earned, though, over many releases and tours with the likes of Josh Ritter and Ani diFranco, on whose label Hundreds of Lions appears. Some of her transcendence comes from her songwriting talent: she excels at writing songs that are just oblique enough to be quirky and fresh while still being universal.