JIMMY KEEGAN – Jimmy Keegan (Album Review)

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There are long-awaited albums, and then there are long-time-coming albums. Jimmy Keegan’s first solo album qualifies on both accounts. Teased for years, including a crowdfunding campaign during the last decade, one of the first shockers of 2024 has been the unexpected announcement: it is finished! It is here! Color me pleasantly surprised. 

Most who are reading this review probably know Keegan from his current band Pattern-Seeking Animals, or its precursor Spock’s Beard. Although he’s credited as drummer and backing vocalist with those bands, Keegan had also taken to helping with arrangements, which has helped focus his vision on this new solo album. His arrival at the lead vocal mic has also been long-anticipated ever since he got a crack at it on Spock’s song “Bennett Built A Time Machine” which garnered a good amount of adoration. 

Considering the fact that the release is self-titled and sports a drawing of Keegan’s mug on the cover in a classic quizzical pose, the impression might be that this album is all-Keegan all-the-time. But in fact this is more of a group effort, especially in terms of songwriting and guest musicians. The Keegan factor lies in his skilled performance on drums and lead vocals, along with playing keys on many songs and the overall production of the album. 

Regarding material, it’s a bit surprising to find out that nearly all of the songs are “covers”, though most listeners will only have heard a couple of them before. Aside from one co-writing credit, Keegan is not listed as a songwriter. Rather than being original material, most of these are little-known songs that Keegan loves and wants to cover himself, often written by his friends over the past several decades. The resulting styles are diverse and varied but overall it’s safe to say that this is a rock album, and a strong one at that. 

The album kicks off with a perfect opener in “The Fisherman 3”. Keegan’s whispers of “Where are you going? What do you wish?” are immediately captivating, followed by a hypnotic rhythm groove. His multi-tracked vocals make a strong impression in the verse but once the chorus kicks in, it’s game over. Winner winner, fishy dinner. Steve Fekete’s guitar keeps up the energy with lines that are inventive and entrancing. This is a Mark Spiro song and if you listen to the original version it’s a similar arrangement but lacking the urgency and drive of Keegan’s rendition. Great track, great way to start an album.

“Where Settlers Go” is another strong, compact song where Keegan’s heavy drum hits are matched by his vocal performance. But here it’s the fretless bass of Derek Jones that stands out – what a player! Two songs in and this album is really checking off all the boxes. “Kiss You Slow” follows, a beautiful ballad by Andy Grammer that sports a captivating arrangement featuring huge Phil Collins-style drumming that Keegan does so well. Unlike the first two songs (and most of the album), however, this is one piece that I’m not convinced is ideal for Keegan‘s vocal range. The lead vocal track just doesn’t sit as well in the mix, though the backing vocals and instrumentation are superb. 

“Jimmy Keegan” Artwork

The vibe takes a sudden funky turn with one of the highlights of the album. “7:00 A.M.” totally rages, and Keegan is back on his vocal game in full force. With musical support from Eric Dover, Ted Leonard, and Alex Evans, this is a mammoth track that won’t let the listener sit still. We even get a bit of a drum spotlight further in. Co-written by Keegan and his friends Greg Lastrapes, David Judy, and Alex Evans, they should just release this one as a single and watch it go up the charts.

Here’s one song you’ll know: “Crosseyed and Painless” from the Talking Heads. Nice cover but it speaks well of the rest of Keegan’s songwriting friends that this is more of a passing curiosity and not the main highlight of the album. Speaking of which, Steve Bonino – a notable artist in his own right – authors two of the songs herein, including the great jam “Chaos In The U.S.A.” which features the sublime bass of Dave Meros, and a change of pace in “Minor Seconds” boasting a string section and Jennifer Jo Oberle’s fretless bass. Nice diversity in the material. 

The aforementioned Greg Lastrapes plays a big role on this album, especially in songwriting, as he co-authors four of the tracks. His “Comfort Girl” depicts the story of a soldier in an Asian war who seeks brief comforts of the flesh with an enigmatic call girl. Although the lyrics hint at shades of sympathy, they ultimately relegate back to a transactional relationship with chauvinist overtones: “I wonder what your thoughts are, I nearly ask your name…but I don’t care all the same.” 

While there’s not much that would be considered “prog” on the album, the closing track “Six Months In A Leaky Boat” does carry the feel of a mini-epic. Using the Split Enz tune as its centerpiece, Keegan bookends the track with two elaborate piano sections. Ryo Okumoto takes on the opening, a sumptuous display on the keys with thunder rolling in the background, while Otmaro Ruiz offers the closing piano outro accompanied by Keegan’s impassioned drumming and Pascale Elia’s vocals. The Split Enz song proper – with its jaunty upbeat singsong delirium – is intentionally juxtaposed with the transcendent piano pieces, a daring but successful approach. Both of the piano sections are absolutely spine-tingling, and the outro section could literally go on for hours and not grow old. The perfect ending to an album. 

While the album is credited to “Jimmy Keegan” on its cover, it’s clearly much more than that. Maybe “The Friends of Mr. Keegan” would have been a more apropos album title. Nevertheless, it’s Keegan’s enthusiasm and vitality that pervade the recording, coming through via his singing, his playing, and his community. He also does a good job in the engineering and production departments; it sounds good sonically while traversing a wide range of styles. Although prog fans may have wished for more extended jams, for those who enjoy a well-written rock song, this must be the place. 

Released By: Independent
Release Date: March 1st, 2024
Genre: Rock

Musicians:

  • Jimmy Keegan / Drums, Vocals, Keys, Percussion on all tracks
  • Jennifer Jo Oberle / Bass on 1, 3, 10, Fretless Bass on 8
  • Steve Fekete / Guitars on 1, 2, Acoustic Guitars on 9, 10
  • Derek Jones / Fretless Bass on 2
  • Greg Lastrapes / Piano on 2, Keys & Background Vocals on 6, Keys on 8
  • Pascale Elias / Background Vocals on 7
  • Alex Evans / Bass on 4
  • Ted Leonard / Guitars on 4, 7
  • Eric Dover / Guitars on 4, 6, Keys & Programming on 4
  • Bill Lanham / Bass on 5
  • Randy Jacobs / Guitars on 5
  • Mike Glendenning / Guitars on 5
  • Shane Soloski / Bass on 6
  • Walter Ino / Guitars on 6
  • Dave Meros / Bass on 7, 9
  • Steve Bonino / Guitars & Keys on 7, Guitars on 8 Background Vocals
  • Kaitlin Wolfberg / Violin 1 on 8
  • Eliza James / Violin 2 on 8
  • Corrine Olsen / Viola on 8
  • Emily Elkin / Cello on 8
  • Jonathan Gilcrest / Accordion, Penny Whistle on 10
  • Mariano Gonzalez Ramirez / Paraguayan Harp on 10
  • Ryo Okumoto / Piano intro on 10
  • Otmaro Ruiz / Piano outro on 10

“Jimmy Keegan” track-listing:

  1. The Fishermen 3
  2. Where Settlers Go
  3. Kiss You Slow
  4. 7:00 A.M.
  5. Crosseyed and Painless
  6. Platinum
  7. Chaos In The U.S.A.
  8. Minor Seconds
  9. Comfort Girl
  10. Six Months In A Leaky Boat

Pre-order “Jimmy Keegan” HERE

8.6 Excellent

Known primarily as an in-demand drummer who also sings backing vocals, Jimmy Keegan comes to the fore on his first solo album with strong results. On this collection of rock songs, largely penned by Keegan’s peers, we get a diverse but engaging range of emotions and grooves. Anyone who has enjoyed listening to Keegan behind the kit should grab a copy and hear what else he’s got up his sleeve, the results may surprise and delight you

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 8.5
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