Albums from the Alley: Keith Burke and The Little Black Book – These Boys

RATING: 3.5/5

Keith Burke’s sophomore album came together with the help of his band, The Little Black Book featuring a group of veteran Irish musicians including the talented songwriter and fiddle player Sinead Madden from the Moya Brennan Band. With Gavin Glass on production duties, the outcome is a professionally constructed album featuring nine solid tracks with a few stand out gems.

The opening track ‘Brother Hear Me Out’ begins with a monotone melody similar to Talking Head’s ‘Psycho Killer’ but quickly builds to a cracker chorus hook.

The first few strums of ‘Crazy Babe’ bring me back to 1995 and Deep Blue Something’s smash hit, ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys’. However, that moment is fleeting and what develops is a simple country waltz. Sinead Madden’s fiddle brings this song to life weaving Irish roots throughout the Jackson Browne-esque melody.

The catchy melody of ‘Cut Our Teeth’ along with the finely ingrained Hammond organ and tenor sax make me imagine Burke and The Little Black Book transforming into Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and delivering an energetic, sweat-filled stadium rocker.

The fourth track, an easy going piano ballad ‘Come on Now Be Real’, could be a re-write of Marc Cohn’s ‘Walking in Memphis’. However, lyrics such as “I’m just an honest cheater trying to make a deal. It’s just me and St Peter and the court of appeal”, highlight Burke’s often-clever lyrical skills.

The standout track on this album is ‘Sounds Like Something John Might Play’. Jackson Browne’s influence appears again with Burke’s heartfelt vocals finding a comfortable level. The inclusion of the tenor sax accompanying Anja Kuncic’s gentle piano gives the song a classy, romantic feel while also raising a hat to John Earle, the late saxophonist who inspired this beautiful track.

‘The Making of a Saint’, opens with a slow guitar lick accompanied by the dark use of the piano’s bass notes. The song brightens slightly in the first verse before becoming larger than life towards the end. This track has the makings of a slow burning anthem like Chris De Burgh’s ‘Spanish Train’ but Burke’s sweet vocals fail to encapsulate the darkness of the song.

On the closing track, ‘These Boys’, Sinead Madden’s fiddle skills shine through again as the lyrics plead, “War. We’ve got no time for war. . . I’m asking nicely.”

Overall, These Boys is a well crafted and appealing album. Burke’s remarkable talent shines on the simpler songs. However, his gentle vocals struggle to convey the rougher edge of the more complicated numbers. If these songs fell into the right hands I have no doubt that they could become masterpieces.

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