Keating can easily be pigeonholed in that neo-singer/songwriter slot alongside Freedy Johnston et al.; at a glance, his ’90s twentysomethingness is almost archetypal. (His voice works against him too, somewhat stiff and nasal, like a young Jackson Browne.) What makes him worth watching is that, while continuously complaining, he finds ways to be engaging about it, either by sheer quality or by virtue of an intriguing (lyrical or musical) spin. Tell It to Yourself tilts toward the former (“Sanity in the Asylum” and “Show Me How” are instant grabbers). The album contains the pick of the songs he amassed after leaving Boston and his former group, Circle Sky, to follow his songwriting muse to New York, and was cut with the help of guitarist Kevin Salem and Circle Sky’s old drummer, John Sharples.
Scaryarea takes a step backward and a step forward: less accessible tunes more forcefully presented. The backing tends less to blandness and more to band-ness than on the debut: Keating (guitar, co-production), Adam Lasus (bass, co-production) and Joel Stone (drums) form a tight unit that can musically match the frequently jarring lyrical woes, as on “(I Thought I Heard My) Head Exploding” and “Your Other Face.” (For color, Chris Murphy adds fiddle or mandolin to five tracks, and lap steel guitarist Eric DellaPenna and Salem stop by, too.) Keating’s pursuit of ambitious lyrical ideas and rhyming schemes is erratic, though the hits (viz. the dyspeptic, dopey brilliance of “McHappiness”: “a quarter life with cheese”) are largely worth enduring the misses. If he sticks around long enough, he just might transcend any facile bracketing completely.
Satan Sings contains the LP version of “Sanity,” a demo of a second LP track and three live acoustic guitar renditions of songs from the first album.