For her twelfth album, Grammy award-winning vocalist Susan McKeown has produced an ambitious and thought-provoking work on the subject of madness. Featuring poets writing through the lens of depression, mania, and addiction, with new music from McKeown, Frank London, and Lisa Gutkin, Singing in the Dark explores creativity, suffering, and pursuit of happiness. The poets include John Dowland, James Clarence Mangan, Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton, Violetta Parra, Gwyneth Lewis, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, and Jeff Buckley.
The opening line of Theodore Roethke's In A Dark Time beautifully contains the message of the album: In a dark time, the eye begins to see / I meet my shadow in the deepening shade / I hear my echo in the echoing wood. Life's challenges are opportunities to learn and grow, and that's evident in the creative works throughout the recording.
In Anne Sexton's classic work Her Kind, Susan sings of the different moods that have "possessed" her and identifies with each in a powerful, evocative song "I have been her kind.
The lyrics from Irish poet James Clarence Mangan, who died from alcoholism, is sung as an American folk song, and tells how The Nameless One "saw things that made him, with groans and tears, long / for even death." Yet its chorus is full of hope: "Roll forth my song, like the rushing river/ That sweeps along to the mighty sea / God will inspire me while I deliver / My soul of thee."
Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis speaks of The Angel of Depression that "always wears / the face of my loved ones as it tears / the breath from my solar plexus grinds / my face in the ever resilient dirt." But in the end comes the realization "Oh yes I'm broken but my limp is the best part of me. And the way I hurt."
And from a thousand years ago comes the voice of the Irish Mad Sweeney who, wandering homeless and friendless, finds solace in nature concluding (in a line translated by Seamus Heaney), "I need woods for consolation."
An artist who has always defied easy categorization, McKeown's catalog of recordings spans the realms of rock, folk, and world music. For Singing in the Dark she wanted to present and array of moods throughout the album, and so worked with different groups of musicians for the recording sessions. The result is an exciting blend of arresting arrangements throughout, which Mckeown's warm, elasticized vocals shine. The musicians include: Eric Della Penna (Natalie Merchant), Doug Wieselman (Antony & The Johnsons, Martha Wainwright), Shahzad Ismaily (Tom Waits, Bonny "Prince" Billy), and Sonelius Smith (Rahsaan Roland Kirk).
"Creativity is a powerful survival mechanism" for McKeown, "and I started to read more about it because I was curious about this urge which has rarely left me and has always given me purpose. It would make me very unhappy if I couldn't write or make music. A friend referred to Lewis Hyde's The Gift, a fascinating account of the history of gift exchange and the unique energy and strengthening of human relationships that it creates. Art is an intimate gift that can resonate in a powerful way. It concerns me that our society experiences so little of that today, and that we seem to have divested of their importance many aspects of humanity, and invested importance instead in things that have little real value or meaning, as if in search of some kind of perfection, which is kind of missing the point."
Author and Professor of Psychiatry Kay Jamison contributed an essay for the album's liner notes.
THANKS to all those who were backers through the Singing in the Dark Kickstarter project, particularly:
Alsun Keogh, Scott Greenberg, Eliza Byard, Lori Lander Murphy, John Chapman, Jesse J Snyder, Jeff Burka, Dan Stewart, Susan Moss, Anthony Lawlor, Paul Blair, Carolyn Andre, Robert Cantrell, Amy Gallagher, Jorge & Deirdre Correia, Kevin Freeman, Mary Fischer, Thane Tierney, Amy DeBaun, Nancy Cook, Paul O Reilly, Ross Whiting, Kelli Carlson, Kevin & Michele McCaffrey, Gloria Rosson, John J Henshon, Joseph Cerro, Claudine Grange, Catherine Todd, Annie Leger-Jeffrey, Michael Kaye, Eileen Jamieson, Colin Melville, Jessica Spurling, suzi kukucka, Kathleen Walsh D'Arcy, Yoyo Zhou, Yoyo Zhou, Karen Gahtan, Chris Kinabrew, Bob Rizzo, Denise Frayman, Joe Keane, Rob Woiccak, Oisín Mac Suibhne, Philip McCaffrey, Leonard Cox, Michael Curry, Diana Badger, Sheila Ryan.
Drummer Allison Miller
Frank London bids farewell after the recording of In a Dark Time
Doug Wieselman & Frank London
Bass player Jason Sypher
Engineer Ross Bonadonna at the helm
Jason Sypher and Allison Miller
Lisa Gutkin and Susan discuss ideas during the recording of Anne Sexton's A Woman Like That (Her Kind)
Sonelius Smith, Allison Miller, Lindsey Horner, and Susan at the studio to record The Crazy Woman and Good World Blues