The pandemic may have decimated the live music scene around the world but it’s shown the resilience and adaptability of musicians and other creatives as they found new ways of working and recording that didn’t necessarily involve being in the same room or even on the same continent. Annie Keating’s eighth studio album, “Bristol County Tides” is a product of the pandemic, weaving together threads of the experience such as displacement, new places and relationships, and the importance of taking the positives whenever we can get them. There are a lot of very personal songs on the album, but it has its lighter moments as well.

The album opens with “Third Street”, introducing the small Massachusetts town where Annie moved to ride out the pandemic, and some of its characters. It’s laid-back country rock with some over-driven guitar fills, nice slide and a slightly raw vocal creating the ambience for the (mostly) intensely personal songs that follow, and introducing some of the local characters. “Hank’s Saloon” is in a similar vein, a waltz that celebrates escape from the everyday grind with beer, songs and friends, and builds up to a singalong finish with the same dynamic as a session in your favourite bar. Apart from the mid-tempo rock of “Lucky 13”, using gambling as a metaphor for life, the remainder of the album is intensely personal songs about the life in the time of a pandemic. This could be a depressing experience but, like many of us, Annie has managed to find some positives, creating songs that tease out some of the happier experiences of a short-time exile.

“Bristol County Tides” is a long album. There are fifteen songs telling the story of an involuntary exile, starting with the scene-setter “Third Street” and working through to the valedictory “Bittersweet”, “Shades of Blue” and “Goodbye”. “Bittersweet” sums up the tone of the album as the keening pedal steel emphasises the melancholy of parting from a place and people that have offered sanctuary while returning to a new normal. Another standout is “Doris”, a celebration of Annie’s mum and also a celebration of the immigration that made the USA the country it is. It’s also a beautiful tribute.

The remaining songs are beautifully-crafted expositions of aspects of pandemic life. “Kindred Spirit” is about the experience of finding a soul-mate, “Marigold” symbolises rebirth and renewal and “Nobody Knows” urges us to seize the day and appreciate the good things we have. There’s also a navigational theme running through the album with “Blue Moon Tide”, “Half Mast” and “High Tide” all alluding to piloting a way through the crisis. And absolutely no filler.

Annie Keating has produced a work that encapsulates her experience of the last year and it should ring true for most of us. The songs are well-constructed and the arrangements and musicians give each song the support and the space that they need to shine. Enough said.

“Bristol County Tides” is out now.

Here’s the video for “Marigold”:

Annie Keating - 'Trick Star' - cover (300dpi)Just when I was beginning to wonder what had happened to happy and spangly albums, along comes New Yorker Annie Keating with an album that’s so shiny and sparkly at times that I needed Oakleys and factor 50 just to listen to it. I knew there was a reason for holding on to those. It isn’t quite wall to wall shiny, happy people, but there’s plenty of jangly guitar and horns in the mix to make the album as a whole a very uplifting experience; it’s understandable that she’s already caught the attention of Bob Harris and The Telegraph in the UK.

The album’s opening song, “You Bring the Sun” sets the tone with Byrds-style chiming electric guitar driving the song along, reinforcing the positivity of the lyrics. While the musical settings constantly vary across the album, lyrically it’s almost a concept album with themes of rebirth and regeneration woven through the album’s shimmering fabric.

If you’re partial to waltz time, there are a couple of songs in ¾, “Slow Waltz” (unsurprisingly) and “Fool for You”, a tale of unrequited love where the melancholy is deepened by pedal steel and horns. It’s a rare example of a sad song on the album whose title track, about riding a bike at the age of eight, and the sense of exhilaration that brings, is straight ahead rock with a driving beat and sense of pure joy.

The album’s final three songs are an uplifting finale. ”Creatures” bounces along like an update of “Feelin’ Groovy” while “Growing Season” emphasises the theme of rebirth in the spring when nature is starting a new cycle, but final track surpasses everything that’s come before. “Phoenix” (did I mention rebirth already) starts quietly but builds with a skittering drum pattern to a breath-taking choral arrangement to close out the album.

Annie’s voice is quirky and interesting and lends an edge to the musical arrangements while emphasising the slightly offbeat nature of some of the songs. “Trick Star” opens with a positive message and hammers it home with the heavenly choir of the album’s final song; you can’t help but smile at the audacity of it.

“Trick Star” is released worldwide on Friday July 29th.