The six-song EP Simple Place from singer/songwriter Kevin Keating is a deeply felt, musical rich effort immediately rating as one of 2018’s most considered recordings. The Utica, New York resident’s second collection of songs continues in the same vein of his debut recording in featuring nothing but Keating’s guitar, lyrics, and plaintive vocals with strong production values.
His lyrical facility places him on a higher level than many of his contemporaries, but he’s clearly an experienced writer with balancing the dueling demands of accessibility, intimacy, and near poetic excellence and the musicianship behind these tracks is unquestionable. Relying solely on acoustic guitar as accompaniment flirts with imposing a “samey-ness” on the material capable of possibly turning listeners away, but Keating has the songwriting instincts and talents to keep the tempos and textures interesting. Simple Place is an intensely human recording and stands as Keating’s best musical release yet.
Keating is a student of folk music and popular song and his understand of the form comes across well on each of Simple Place’s six cuts. “Ocean Eyes” has an assertive major key feel emanating from his guitar work and his voice nicely matches it without ever seeming in competition. There’s, naturally, a lot of sea-oriented imagery in the song’s lyrics and the specificity of the lyrics makes the songwriting all the more memorable. There’s a darker mood pervading the opening of “Roger’s House” but the same fluid guitar playing powering “Ocean Eyes” is present here as well.
Keven Keating Knows How To Reach Your Soul
Another key ingredient that made the opener so memorable, Keating’s eye for significant detail, rises to the fore again on this song and draws strength from the same concision distinguishing the opener’s writing. His slightly weathered vocals are effective on the third track “Seventy Years” and pairs up nicely with the slower, more considered air enveloping the song. Unlike the preceding two numbers, “Seventy Years” is more character study than an accumulation of external details with a payoff.
There’s a steady march to “Soldier’s Homecoming” that’s wholly appropriate to the song and the lyrics are among the most detailed on Simple Place. The subject matter is all too familiar and has a historical basis in the folk song tradition, but Keating portrays it with unsparing and unsentimental language. One of the more distinctly minor key excursions on Simple Place comes with the song “Standing Ground” and the topical songwriting strikes a chord with our modern world and, once again, folk song tradition. Instead of taking a dogmatic point of view, however, Keating’s songwriting is very human and vulnerable.
The EP’s last song “We the People” has a slightly rousing lift to the guitar work and examines our national history with a wide degree of objectivity and an obvious love of the higher ideals our nation aspires to embody. It has a pensive edge, as well, many listeners will appreciate. Simple Place reminds us that a great songwriter can still accomplish much with just their voice and an acoustic guitar. It’s a welcome reminder.
-review by Jason Hillenburg