Singer, songwriter and keyboardist Beth McKee has lived many musical lives. They include her early-1990s membership in the all-female New Orleans country-pop band Evangeline, and a 2009 solo album of Bobby Charles songs, I’m That Way.
McKee’s fifth solo album, Dreamwood Acres, finds her performing 10 often lushly arranged original songs on the adult-alternative-pop side of her musical spectrum.
The craftsmanship in the album’s songwriting recalls such classic singer-songwriters as Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther and Christine McVie. And the carousels of keyboards heard in the arrangements—played by McKee and her producer, sometime co-writer John Pfiffner—echo the keyboard-saturated ’80s. With the exception of a few songs that sound sparsely arranged, the album is beautifully produced.
McKee’s extensive musical history includes turning piano pro at 14. She learned about blues in her native Mississippi. Following a move to Austin, McKee performed with Texas blues and bar bands. She later moved to New Orleans and joined Evangeline.
Signed to Jimmy Buffett’s MCA-linked Margaritaville Records, Evangeline released a self-titled album in 1992 and French Quarter Moon in 1993. By the mid-’90s Evangeline had disbanded. Although McKee and another former member of Evangeline, Sharon Leger, formed a new group with Gary Hirstius, McKee soon moved to Orlando.
Dreamwood Acres is McKee fifth solo album. She recorded the project in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with Pfiffner, a multi-instrumentalist protégé of East Coast jangle-pop maestro and R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter. Other Easter associates contribute to Dreamwood Acres, too. Their participation is especially obvious in the trebly electric guitar decoration heard in “You Make It Look Easy” and R.E.M.-like “Resurrection Mary.” Despite being easily identifiable, it’s good stuff.
In Dreamwood Acres’ pop-rock songs, McKee comes off as a pleasantly dialed-down version of Heart’s Ann Wilson. For more rootsy material—“Mad Potter of Biloxi” and “Echo Chamber,” for instance—she could almost be mistaken for Bonnie Raitt. Either way, this project’s well-turned songs and McKee’s engagingly understated vocals make it a listening pleasure.