Jack McKeon - Talking To Strangers



Singer-songwriter Jack McKeon doesn’t wear fancy stage clothes and doesn’t add lots of gimmicks and adornments to his guitar playing. With a voice like his, alongside his incredible songwriting skills, he doesn’t need any of those things to establish his credentials within the Americana music community. He just steps up to the microphone, and the proof pours forth. Hailing from Chatham, upstate New York, he moved to Nashville in the wake of the pandemic, and over the past three years has steadily built a following, leading to this debut album, which finds him sharing a wide variety of influences courtesy of several specific styles—bluegrass, Appalachian balladry, folk-styled storytelling, rootsy country and what can best be described as McKeon-music. His literary songwriting is direct, and these songs stay with you long after they have drifted off, largely because of how multi-dimensional Jack’s reflections are. He writes songs and tells stories with a mesmerising candour and intimacy. They showcase his canny ability with lyrics that convey feelings of loneliness, despair and joy and tell stories of blue-collar folks who have faced forced displacement, upheaval and untold hardship, wistfully looking back to the happiness of their former homes. 

Jack takes a wander down Willow Lane, to kick off the album, his easy-going vocal backed by steady guitar, banjo and haunting fiddle. The tempo and the rhythm section then pick up and it moves into a full-time feel that never detracts from the reflective story of a treasured neighbourhood. Justin Moses’ finely picked banjo sets the nostalgic tone of Highway 29, a thoughtfully constructed song about a hard-working family uprooted from their home to make way for a new highway. Jack traces the generations who’ve owned the land right back to the Civil War in plain, yet compelling vocal tones, coloured by fiddle, mandolin, reso-guitar and delicate vocal harmonies. His laid-back voice and emotive acoustic guitar picking are all that’s needed to hook the listener into Crooked Teeth. Creating seemingly unconnected characters, he paints vivid word portraits linking these damaged and disparate people together so masterfully, you’re immediately tempted to listen to the song all over again. 

A Little Slice Of Heaven is not an anticipated gospel tune, but a catchy bluegrass-flavoured song about the encroachment of new housing developments into the countryside and rural communities. Standing up for the ‘little man’ seems to be Jack McKeon’s thing, but he also steps boldly into romantic entanglements with the heartbreaking Paler Side Of Blue and album closer Love At the End Of The World. With the latter he offers sage advice about love, whilst Paler Side Of Blue finds him reflecting morosely on a failed relationship. With mandolin and banjo leading this slow-moving ballad, matched with the wise tones of his lead vocal, this song allows him to showcase his gifts for songwriting and thoughtful wandering in equal measureMost surprising and unexpected is Jack’s take on Hal Ketchum’s hit  Past the Point Of Rescue. Shared here with the passionate determination of the original, and steady banjo picking for additional emphasis, he reshapes the song for a terrific bluegrass track that brings back fond memories. Although Jack McKeon has only taken the first step on his musical journey, it’s clear, even at the outset, that he’s made rapid progress. It gives us cause to eagerly await what follows.


June 2024