Keegan McInroe ScrollerKeegan McInroe seems pretty relaxed about the whole process of touring, in fact he seems pretty relaxed all round. If you listen to his latest album, “Uncouth Pilgrims”, you’ll know that he’s travelled extensively and used his experiences to create some great songs. It’s obvious from the moment you open the door of The Lighthouse on Battersea Park Road that it’s not the ideal gig for a singer/songwriter. It’s Friday night, noisy and full of the ‘few beers after work’ crowd, but Keegan doesn’t seem too bothered; it’s a gig he’s done since his first tour here in 2004 even though the pub has changed hands and function since then. Having a quick chat before the gig, he’s remarkably unfazed by the audience, explaining that he’ll just play a few more covers than usual and some of the songs from the new album.

And that’s just what he did. His own material, mainly from the new album, was slotted fairly evenly into the two sets and included “Lumberjack Blues”, “Give Me the Rain”, “I Got Trouble”, “Flower Song for Barefoot Dancers”, “Nikolina” and “Lay Down”. The stripped-down versions worked beautifully live and the audience didn’t distract too much; there was even a fair smattering of applause around the room.

As for the covers, well, he didn’t put a foot wrong; he even played a couple of unexpected old favourites of mine. There were songs by the songwriting giants (Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and a tribute to Merle Haggard) and a few less predictable choices. Only three songs in, he made the brave choice of tackling Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia” and, despite a fairly noisy crowd, he made it work. The more esoteric song choices added the spice that made the evening unique; Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Life by the Drop” and Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita” (both stories of addiction) introduced an element of pathos, while Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer” and Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” (which closed the second set) gave Keegan the chance to demonstrate his blues licks.

If this gig had been in an established ‘listening room’, the audience chatter would have been hugely distracting, but it was a free gig in a local pub and Keegan took a pragmatic view of the situation, playing to the people who were interested and tuning out those who weren’t. His own songs are well crafted and worked perfectly in the stripped-down format. He’s also a really nice guy.

Uncouth Pilgrims” is released on Friday May 27th

Uncouth Pilgrims Scroller“Uncouth Pilgrims”: the title’s a quotation from Mark Twain’s travelogue, “The Innocents Abroad”. It’s Keegan McInroe’s fourth solo album and it pulls together various strands of Americana, weaving them together with (mainly) stories of Keegan’s own musical pilgrimage around the world. He succeeds in uniting some diverse styles with his travelling minstrel theme and honest lyrics that shift easily from gentle and pastoral to the raw and urban. It’s difficult to pin him down to a single genre as the album shifts from the Nashville country of the openers, “Country Music Outlaw” and “Tonight” through the boogie of “Lumberjack”, the raw electric blues of “Uncouth Pilgrim” and the folk of “Woody and Ruth”.

There’s no doubt about the quality of his voice. He goes all the way from the growling early Bob Seger feel of “Uncouth Pilgrim” to the quiet and close-miked “Verona” and “Resolutions” and he sounds completely convincing all the way, backed by musicians that always sound assured but never flashy. This is all about the voice and the songs, but it helps that the arrangements and the musicians create a backdrop that works superbly whether it’s a full band or just a couple of instruments.

The songs are very much lyric-driven, a wanderer’s tales of hangovers, romantic opportunities missed and lustful opportunities taken across several continents. Virtually everything on the album sounds autobiographical, apart from the folk ballad “Woody and Ruth” which surely has to be a Woody Guthrie story and, with Woody’s reputation, who knows whether it’s true or false. It’s a very sparse arrangement built around simple guitar and drum parts with a very laconic vocal, but it works beautifully, connecting Woody’s journeys around America with the modern troubadour’s journeys around the world. And it’s not just about quality, the album weighs in at a hefty fourteen songs, so no-one’s going to feel short-changed.

The album’s a fine piece of work, pulling together Keegan’s roots in various forms of American music to create an evocative musical picture of the life of ‘Just another shaggy singer of songs’. It’s also a shoo-in for the ‘Most Cities and Countries Mentioned on One Album’ category at the next AMA UK awards.

“Uncouth Pilgrims” is released on Friday May 27th and you can get a CD copy here.