Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Keith Sykes Delivers on "Songs From a Little Beach Town"

One of America's best songsmiths is back with a charming little EP entitled "Songs From A Little Beach Town".  After moving in more of a country direction the last several projects, Keith throws his audience a change up in the form of a trip to Key West, the Caribbean or to be precise, South Texas. 

To say "Songs From a Little Beach Town" harkens back to the day when Keith played guitar in Jimmy Buffet's Coral Reefer Band would be too easy.  Sure there are the obvious references to Syke's early career association to Mr. Buffet in the project's title and some of the content on his new ep, but since that time Keith Sykes has quietly gone on to an impressive career amassing one of the best bodies of work for a songwriter bar none.  Under appreciated by the public but incredibly respected by his peers, Sykes journey as an artist, albeit along a road less traveled has been far more interesting artistically, whether as a songwriter, performer  or producer, that any comparison to his more famous past is grossly unfair and more importantly, inaccurate to him as an artist.  Keith Sykes is the kind of artist you can't pigeon hole because just when you think you have him figured out he's off in an entirely different direction.  Sykes is the personification of the old adage "the only constant in life is change".

Like a lot of the ponies I bet on at the track, Sykes doesn't like running to form and the current project is the perfect example.  Just when you think Keith has figuratively sold his home in Memphis and permanently moved to Nashville he's fooled us all again and instead headed for the beach.  But don't expect Keith to be sorry because he has already done that, literally, several albums ago.

Recorded in Nashville, presumably not for the irony or to make people like me sound foolish, I don't need any help thank you very much, but rather, that is where some of the best talent has migrated these days and this project is no exception. Produced and engineered by Brent Maher, the production is first rate.  The musicians who back Keith up on the project are some of the industry's finest:   Nir Z.  on drums and percussion, the legendary Willie Weeks on bass, Bobby Ogden holding down both piano and organ duties, the absolutely wonderful Brent Mason on electric guitar and Thom Flora on backing vocals. 

The six track EP opens with one of the set's stronger pieces and slated single, “Come as You Are Beach Bar".  What in a perfect world would be destined for heavy rotation on either pop, rock or country stations this summer, Sykes displays his ability to craft the perfect warm weather song.  Like all his work, the musicianship is first class.  "Come as You Are..." is set in one of those laid back, hole in the wall watering holes you find in resort areas that caters to the locals, who are the "stars".   Wait a second, "...didn't Mr. Young (already) sing about it..."  The second track, “The Best Day” sounds like it is right of an old Buffet album, acoustic guitars over a calypso beat sets a happy, upbeat mode before the melancholy “I Pick You”.  But things brighten up again with “Little Beach Town”. 

Listening to the guitar work on "Little Beach Town" I swore I heard slide and Hawaiian slack key.  I was so impressed by the tasteful, perfect tone guitar I reached out to Keith's PR person, Elizabeth at Signal Flow to ask who was playing slide guitar on the track.  The ever attentive Ms. Elizabeth immediately got back to me with a great quote from Keith himself: "It is Brent Mason, but it's not slide. It's just Brent Mason!"  No Depression readers make a mental note to keep your ears open for Brent Mason because he is the real deal.

Next up is a song Keith wrote way back in 1977 and appeared on Buffet's "Son of a Son of a Sailor' lp, "Coast of Marseilles".  If there was any doubt in your mind that Keith Sykes was a world class songwriter this track should put it to rest.  Beautiful lush arrangement complete with strings, it is the perfect set up for the set closer and my personal favorite "Drive Myself to Drinking".  Just Keith solo playing acoustic guitar and the perfect economy of words and notes

There is something for everyone on his new EP.  For those familiar with Mr. Sykes early work, "Songs From A Little Beach Town” makes for an interesting respite from his recent concentration on country music, and undoubtedly will be welcomed by the legions of Parrot Heads as a return to the fold. For the uninitiated there is the joy of discovering one of America's music treasures and for those intimately familiar with his long and storied career, a certain smugness.  Perhaps now the rest of the country will finally find out what we have known all along.  Those in the know have high expectations for the man who penned such Americana classics as "Love to Ride", "Flying Low", "I Know an Angel" and "I Was Right About You" and on "Songs from a Little Beach Town" Keith Sykes delivers.

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