Raised in Dublin, Ireland, and now a longtime resident of New York, Susan McKeown sublimely spans the worlds of traditional folk music - Celtic and other stripes - and contemporary singer-songwriting. Her new album of original songs, Belong, is rooted in the present, with songs such as "On the Bridge to Williamsburg" and "Lullaby of Manhattan" also providing a sense of place, although the matters of the heart she explores are more timeless. The folk influence comes through in the exquisitely spare arrangements, which match the purity and expressiveness of her voice and occasionally drift toward folk-rock, as on the standout duet with James Maddock, "Everything We Had Was Good."
- Nick Cristiano
Music is in the bloodlines of Murali Coryell, the son of jazz/rock guitarist Larry Coryell. The younger Coryell has followed in his father's footsteps as a guitarist, but with an emphasis on blues and soul. Live (Shake-It-Sugar Records), a combination CD/DVD scheduled for release Jan. 15, is taken from shows in 2010 and 2012. The release finds him mixing energized versions of his own songs, including a Hendrixesque reading of "In the Room with Jimi," and acknowledging his musical influences. He stretches out instrumentally on bluesman Lowell Fulson's "Love Her With a Feeling" and delivers a strong rendition of Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me." In a live setting, Coryell draws inspiration from the audience as his concerts become a two-way communication.
- Tom Wilk
The Hold Steady
This year, Craig Finn put out his first solo album, the country-flavored Clear Heart Full Eyes. While worthy, it lacked the sheer exuberance of his work with the Hold Steady, so it's good news that Finn and Tab Kubler and company are back in action and coming Saturday to Union Transfer. And it's even better news that they're road-testing songs for an album slated for the new year. No one writes as well as Finn about barroom denizens who live and die by rock-and-roll, and few write riffs as life-affirming and fist-pumping as Kubler. Although keyboardist Franz Nicolay decamped, with the addition of Steve Selvidge, the band is now a triple-guitar threat, and Hold Steady shows are still beery, sweat-soaked celebrations of rock-and-roll's cathartic power.
- Steve Klinge