Last year, at Manchester’s Neighbourhood festival, a hive for emerging artists, I was pulled to a cramped, vibrant pub to see David Keenan. I’d heard the name whispered in the crevices of my group previously, but I was entering the space unknowing of what I’d experience. Before this, I’d never quite been acquainted with such raw, authentic energy that was shared with us during that set. An understated duality of stunning vocals laid upon an acoustic guitar didn’t need to have complexity – it was emotion stripped bare.
Keenan’s latest work, Strip Me Bare, is the best translation of his live performance to date. Maintaining the dream provoking wonder of his work, it is perfectly crafted. His lyrical work is tuned poetry, articulated through a voice of power and grace. A musician such as Keenan is an artist in his own right, devoid of any reliance, but listening to him does conjure the sentimentality and warmth of greats such as Leonard Cohen. The words alone, seemingly abstract in nature, display Keenan as a 21st Century Romantic poet, echoing Frost, Thomas or Yeats, with pockets of modernity.
This theme of Romanticism displays his personas as dignified outsiders, with the beautifully penned ‘Lawrence of Arcadia’ deliberating upon beauty found in unlikely places. “The last known bar stool prophet” and “Christy, who’s selling bin tags from his liberated bicycle of gold” are all features of this Romantic world, enlightening in these seemingly barren, pastoral places. The rumble of an acoustic guitar is delicately placed under the roar of his vocals, complimenting each other harmoniously.
‘Alter Wine’ is unequivocally powerful, exhibiting cries from the soul of a persona. Peppered with fervent piano, the chorus speaks of a “fucked up muse” to “read me Sassoon”. The passionate imagery bleeds through the music. ‘The Groundskeeper’ is a wonderfully procured exploration of pace, bounding from cutting silence to joyous rhythm. Each song tells a story with depth, harnessing such simplicity and energy that captures the magic of his live performance. The true wonder is that the rich stories of Strip Me Bare are given to you from David Keenan, and are truly yours to wash over your mind.