Limitless evolution
Lucy Harbron
14:19 22nd March 2023

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We’ll forgive you if you’ve managed to miss the name David Keenan before now. Not to be mixed up with the Scottish author of the same name, the singer, David Keenan, is one of Ireland’s finest. Gaining a reputation as a true artist, merging poetry and song as he worked his way up through the live circuit, went viral from singing in a taxi, roved off to Liverpool in search of The La’s Lee Mavers, went to London to make it and came back to Ireland in time to find it there with a record deal and an album to make.

By 2020, he earnt a number 1 in Ireland’s independent charts, with his debut The Beginners Guide To Bravery being the best selling vinyl in the country. But as shown by his latest album Crude, and this new EP coming only months later, it wasn’t enough. Following the stunning 2021 album WHAT THEN? Keenan left his label, and has been only better for it since.

CRUDE BOYO is a sister piece to Crude, a fascinating album of fresh tracks that feel exciting, free from the overthinking of markeing meetings and label considerations. They felt like songs conjured up, made exactly how Keenan wanted, following direct instructions from his vision only, and shared before the sparkle dulled. And on CRUDE BOYO, despite some of these songs being years in the making, the sparkle is still shimmery. 

Opening up with ‘El Paso’, it’s a special moment. Now with 99k views, in a video titled ‘Irish Guy (David Keenan) Singing In A Taxi’, only a teenager then, you can hear Keenan singing ‘El Paso’, the song that started it all. However, I think it’s probably telling that we’ve never heard the song on record before. Two albums and several EPs later, the freedom that pours out of these Crude projects definitely feels like a coming home, back to the total creative control and simply put, the fun of early creation and writing without pressure or in put. It feels like a perfect home for ‘El Paso’, a song that seems to encapsulate all that as a half love letter to home and half ode to roaming. Stripped back and un-fucked-with, he keeps ‘El Paso’ simple as it should be, bringing you into the new project with a nod to the origins, he’s still that same boyo.

"This EP feels like a whole career of an artist’s exploration and evolution in a handful of tracks..."

But from that track onwards, any impression that David Keenan hasn’t developed is dropped. With the following 4 tracks traversing spoken word poetry, Bob Dylan-like guitar licks, spanish influenced instrumentals and jazz-like flows; it’s honestly no wonder no record label could hold him down. Ever-evolving, this EP feels like a whole career of an artist’s exploration and evolution in a handful of tracks.

Having spent plenty of his time in catalonia, the influence comes through loud and clear on ‘Garden Of Remembrance’ in a fascinating meeting of Keenan’s clear irish folk rooted guitar, and a full backing of double basses and jazz drums. As the band come together, singing “Oh your love has gone, to the garden of remembrance’; the mish mash is so satisfying.

And it continues. Singing about an angry supermarket trip, trying to buy biscuits through the red haze of annoyance, ‘At One With My Rage’ could be mistaken for a golden-age Bob Dylan track. Tricking you into thinking this will just be another David Keenan signature, spoken word and sparse guitar tune; the incredible riff at 1:28 bursts the song wide open. Embroiling his guitar with anger somehow, without ever needing to get too loud or too heavy, it’s a lick that could be stolen straight from Blood On The Tracks. 

But before the old time influence becomes too much, making you wonder if David Keenan is simply an artist for a nostalgia trip, ‘Jokes Not Funny’ comes in strikingly modern. With an instrumentation more alike 10s indie than folk - it might be a classic Keenan lyrical work, but the sound couldn’t be more different.

And as we race to the end of Keenan’s 5-track talent showcase, ‘Aldente Pasta’ tops it all off as a track that can only be described as stunning. Released as a single a couple of weeks back, it took my breath away the first time and every time since. Striking a perfect balance between unique and classic, tricky and timeless, experimental and rooted in tradition - it’s something unlike anything he’s delivered before. Straying closer to jazz in terms of rhythm and flow, it follows no strict pattern but settles into a clear chorus accompanied by a saxophone. As the clearest display of Keenan’s refusal to settle into any one school of sound, the total rearrangement of his traditional backing band into a kind of jazz-folk-spanish hybrid to suit wherever he’s at as an artist - the Crude projects prove he’s going to keep racing ahead and whoevers surrounding him must keep up.

While I think some of these tracks, especially ‘At One With My Rage’ could be levelled up even more with a bit more time and a bigger production - the overwhelming conclusion is that I'm glad I'm hearing these songs right now, right as Keenan intended.

Free from the shackles of a label and the drawn out traditional release structure, you get the feeling that these tracks would’ve been over-analysed and left off an album, only to sit as treasures in some lost archive. As a poet and an artist more-so than a typical musician, i don’t get the impression that Keenan is too keen on waiting around for artistic gratification, or holding back his evolution for green lights from higher ups. 

He clearly wants to write now, write what he wants and get it out. And while the quality stays this high, we’re happy to keep listening.

CRUDE BOYO arrives March 24th.

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.

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