Humphrey-McKeown – Tapestry of Shadows

Heather Humphrey and Tom McKeown have been working together as a songwriting partnership since 2006. The duo first paired up as an exclusive songwriting tandem but soon realized that merely writing together wasn’t going to sustain their desires. Their fifth studio release since then, Tapestry of Shadows, testifies to the wisdom of that decision.

The dozen songs do an excellent, often vivid job of tapping into the traditional roots of American music, folk and the blues, in ways that few practitioners of the form dare attempt. They are, as well, experts at conjuring atmosphere without ever sounding hackneyed when attempting it – every effect on the album comes off quite honestly and in keeping with the spirit of the song. It’s extraordinary to hear such evocative work coming in at such a point in our musical history, but Humphrey/McKeown recall the past without ever seeming beholden to it.

It’s apparent on the album’s first song. Beautiful has the sort of resonance that sounds loose and easily achieved, but a closer listen to songs like this show the hard work and skill required to make these sort of efforts work up to their potential. Songs like this don’t happen by happenstance. The trading off of vocal and instrumental lines with such fluidity and coherence comes from a lifetime of woodshedding and honing your chops to a sharp edge.

The groove on Better Day is quite unlike anything else you’ll hear on this album or, frankly, in this genre. Humphrey/McKeown make a great impression utilizing traditional instrumentation, like banjo and mandolin, in unexpected ways. The production on this track and others highlights another of the album’s strengths – the striking juxtaposition of a bright, lively recording sparks well with the generally serious and often times melancholy bent to their lyrics and songwriting. The blues is definitely a presence on this collection, but it is wisely tempered.

You Don’t Know Me moves away from the overt blues influences on the preceding track in a favor of a lightly balladic air. The piano isn’t a constant presence during this performance, but plays a much stronger role than any of the opening songs and certainly sets a mood for everything that follows. McKeown’s vocals are particularly strong here.

Flower on the Wall might make some think the duo has a little bit more classic country influence in what they do than what they play up, but the folk influences in what they do come across even more strongly here and there’s even a quasi-world music flair in the lyrical violin work.

The appropriately titled Our Beautiful Sad Dance is one of the album’s more delicate works and greatly relies on the tight entwining of Humphrey and McKeown’s vocals.

There’s a more deliberate stride pushing the performance of Your Secret’s Safe and even some shades of dark humor coming through in its lyrical content. The duo’s songwriting is consistently clever and distinguished by a high level of smarts that never fails.

Tapestry of Shadows’ second to last track, Madness, has a much bolder and assertive vocal from both McKeown and Humphrey, but it never dominates the track.

The finale of Sunshine Today strikes a different mood, both musically and lyrically, than what we’ve heard from the earlier tracks and brings the release to a strong close. There’s obviously been a great deal of thought and planning expended on the construction of this album and, along with its high quality, it results in the best release yet from this duo.

9 out of 10 stars

Check out the official website for Heather Humphrey and Tom McKeown by clicking here. Give them a like on Facebook by clicking here & a follow on Twitter by clicking here. Lastly if you are interested in donating to their Pledge Music campaign, click here.

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