Kevin Keating’s Simple Place boasts six songs requiring nothing more than his voice, guitar playing, and fine lyrics to win over audiences. It’s the Utica, New York resident’s second recording and the natural uptick in confidence one might expect from a sophomore effort in this style is fully present in this collection. Keating proudly embraces traditional strengths in his songwriting thanks to his thorough grounding in the vast history of popular song and his command of these elements definitely informs the quality of Simple Place’s songwriting and performances. The production doesn’t need to be very elaborate given the spartan instrumentation making Simple Place work, but a warm ambiance surrounds Keating’s music and voice without becoming a distraction. This may seem like a relatively unassuming offering, but don’t let its aurally scaled down size fool you – Kevin Keating is writing some of the best songs today in this style and proudly carries on a number of traditions into an uncertain future.
It’s his songwriting strengths that provide Simple Place with the strong back necessary to pack these aforementioned traditions. Keating’s writing is distinctly tethered to our modern world, in some important respects, but it also rings out with the sort of timelessness you’d expect from talented purveyors of this style. “Ocean Eyes” shares some of his finest song craft with us and has a much more overtly poetic veneer than the later songs that’s nicely accented by his guitar work. “Roger’s House” brings precise and expertly tailored character development together with another well arranged guitar driven tune. His writing, like his music, doesn’t waste anything and addresses the audience in such a way that emphasizes connection over self indulgence. Few songs make that clearer than the EP’s third track “Seventy Years”. Despite the spartan components of a plaintive voice and well recorded acoustic guitar, many of Keating’s songs harbor subtle ambitions and few are more ambitious than this character-driven panorama rife with strong details. The guitar work on this song is particularly exceptional and draws us in from the first.
“Soldier’s Homecoming” is a dark number lacking much in the way of hopefulness, but audiences will respond to the enormous humanity behind its structure and how Keating unfolds the song’s narrative with the sure touch of a short story writer. The condensed sweep of the tale takes listeners from desert battlefields to VA lines with a deft touch. “Standing Ground” is another song in such a vein, albeit more directly topical than the last, and adds some welcome poetic touches to counter-balance the headline aspects of Keating’s songwriting. Such songs always flirt with sounding dated in relatively short time, but this song should retain timelessness unlike more literal efforts of this type. The last track on Simple Place, “We the People”, is a welcome respite from the pain in the aforementioned tunes and has a knowing maturity running beneath its hopeful idealism. Kevin Keating is an artist of great distinction who doesn’t need a full band to make music bursting with energy, atmosphere, and meaning.