It's hard to pigeonhole Erin McKeown. Far from your typical coffeehouse singer-songwriter, McKeown is both a literate pop folkie and an American songbookie.
On the Bostonian's latest studio effort, this year's Sing You Sinners, McKeown takes an entertaining trip down Tin Pan Alley, paying respect (not stodgy reverence) to such standards as "Get Happy" and "Paper Moon."
In contrast, 2005's We Will Become Like Birds finds her cultivating a sophisticated folk rock sound as well as employing Latin lyrics.
It's tempting to attribute McKeown's diverse sound to her education: She studied ethnomusicology at Brown University. But she's no ivory-tower academic. McKeown's gregarious personality helps make her a spirited performer, while her impressively nimble guitar work (she's a Gibson girl, by the way) serves to enliven her smartly penned, emotionally rich tunes. After swinging through Ohio back in June, McKeown posted on her website that Cleveland had the best singers and biggest sports fans, Cincinnati's fans were the best behaved and best educated, and Dayton had the best clappers. Maybe this time through, we'll snag all those titles.