Erin McKeown "Manifestra"

Erin McKeown has been an intriguing artist since the inception of her career. Her music inauguration began in earnest following her graduation from Brown University with a degree in Ethnomusicology. Originally pigeon holed as a nuveau folkie, she’s challenged easy categorization as she’s embraced a wide range of genres including folk, pop, swing, jazz, electronica, rock, and Broadway musicals. She’s an adept business woman who records her material in her small home in rural Massachusetts. Her intellect is apparent whether she’s exploring relationships, personalities traits, or as on her new release, politics.

“Manifestra” – a feminization of manifesto with a nod to the Latin word for window – fenestra - is a term created to encapsulate McKeown’s push toward independence. Financially she’s moved away from the constraints of record labels, creating her own TVP Records. Artistically McKeown tosses the concerns of popular success to take a stand as an activist. Manifestra tackles the issues surrounding political power struggles. McKeown not only questions what lack of power does to the oppressed, she also asks the opposite – how does power change those who possess it? This point becomes particularly clear on the album’s first single, “The Jailer.” As the United States builds physical walls between itself and other nations, who is imprisoned by the action? Her message is delivered on a bed of funky jazzed infused beats.

Musically Manifestra is McKeown’s most musically diverse release to date as she mixes and matches many of the genre’s she’s employed on past albums. “Proof” is singer/songwriter ballad. That track is followed by “In God We Trust” which extends the ballad to encompass electronic elements. “Histories” opens with hand claps, piano and a string session. The lyrics are a devastating examination of societal norms. The title track expands on a theme originally heard on McKeown’s Grand album. The vocals slide back and forth between spoken word and sung lyrics creating a unique rhythmic cadence. “That’s Just What Happened” has the kind of pool hall jauntiness that would make Tom Waits proud.

McKeown is joined by a small group of close friends, including vocal appearances from New England musicians Ryan Montbleau and Anais Mitchell. Another Massachusetts resident – MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, contributes lyrical input on the album’s last track “Bagdad to the Bayou.” No doubt you’ve figured out this is the most political call to arms on the release.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Host and Senior Producer)