Picks and Pans Review: Joe Keenan and the Band of Crows

updated 02/04/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/04/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Joe Keenan & the Band of Crows

Here is a beautiful batch of folk numbers, ballads and even an Irish shanty by a New England-based singer-songwriter who has also been a sea-going cook, baker, roofer, fish packer, carpenter and carnival worker. Given that background, it's no wonder that Keenan's best songs are alive with a restless, romantic spirit. His often word-perfect lyrics, telling tales of hope, wonder and loss, are driven by a gently rocking blend of acoustic and electric guitar.

A 30-year-old native of western Massachusetts now living on Martha's Vineyard—scene of the neofolk movement that sprang up in the mid-'80s—Keenan sings with a sturdy tenor that lends itself well to the Celtic flavor of such bright-dark ballads as "Grave Digger." The words of that song begin: "I met an old man, a gypsy was he/ He traveled the land and he traveled the sea/ And I know my story might sound absurd/ But he asked me right then to hear his last words." Other standouts on this cassette-only first recording are the exuberant "Burning Fires" and the quieter, more countrified "Tall Handsome Cowboys."

Keenan, who plays acoustic guitar in an easy, finger-picking style, gets solid help from John Cruz and Tony Derricotte on bass, Joseph Boyle on electric guitar, Doug Raneri on drums and Heather Goff on background vocals. Echoing the self-admitted influences of such seminal folk artists as Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot, Keenan and company spin an impressive web of musical meanderings and motifs that, in the end, add up to a fresh, strong sound of their own. (Shack Productions, P.O. Box 4486, Vineyard Haven, Mass. 02568, 508-645-3492)

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