Category Archives: jimmy o’keefe and friends

AMERICAN ARCHETYPES by jimmy o’keefe and friends

by Sean




Released: 2010
Tracklisting:
  1. The Devil Speaks to Mary 3 [LISTEN]

  2. The Insomniacs Song 1 [LISTEN]

  3. The Sleep Fairy [LISTEN]

  4. Mugged Blues 2 [LISTEN]

  5. Property Lines [LISTEN]

  6. Blue Highway [LISTEN]

  7. What She Said to Her Teacher [LISTEN]

  8. Sunny Babe [LISTEN]

  9. Alleyway Monologue [LISTEN]

  10. Prescriptions 3 [LISTEN]

  11. The Old Days 4 [LISTEN]

   Do you like folk music, America, and/or whiskey? Good, then you’ll love this album. There’s a good chance that you have no idea who Jimmy O’Keefe is, but this 20 year old from the county, in the middle of Maryland, has produced one of the most mature, and best folk albums you will hear this year. Borrowing from the Dylans, Youngs, Cashs, and even Neutral Milks of the past, Jimmy O’Keefe has molded the tried and true formulas into something of his own.

   American Archetypes starts with the fingerpicking introduction of “The Devil Speaks to Mary 3”. O’Keefe sings, “I had a conscience that lingered in the air and I ran from it everyday/ I’d hear my father’s voice calling from somewhere but his wisdom had nothing good to say/ And between Albany and Houston the snow turned into rain/ Starry eyed before the storm I pledged allegiance to my pain”. This is only the beginning of the words from what sounds like a man looking back on his life in a prison-like state, wanting to retreat from not only his physical location, but also from his own head. The song ends “Now do you think they’ll end me swiftly off the books before the dawn?/ And maybe you can’t see them but my chains are never gone”. This chilling finale is the start of the haunting stamps to be placed on many of the works of American Archetypes.

   So you wanna talk about whiskey? Okay. “But if you smell the roses on his teeth/ Then meet the sterile whiskey on his breath/ You know all the words you would sober speak/ But not the things he’d say about his death”. What would Americana folk music be without whiskey? Probably non-existant. “The Sleep Fairy” introduces America’s favorite drink along with a chorus aided by keyboard-laden strings. “And if your father’s blessed with shame”… “Now the devil’s drinking whiskey like its turpentine/ While the Saints pour all their blood into their fickle-bellied wine/ Well maybe they could all drink to my memories/ While I do what I do best, drinking ’til I can’t see”. Along with the themes of alcoholism, we start to see father issues akin to those with another talented modern-day folk artist, Justin Townes Earle, son of Steve Earle. And as you continue reading, and hopefully listening, you’ll realize a theme in this review: These lyrics are really fucking good and almost unbelievably mature from this Southern Maryland college student.

   “Property Lines” is one of the staples of American Archetypes, while repeating only two chords throughout the entire song. These two chords are accompanied by atmospheric background guitar work along with appealing lyricism with every line ending in “visions of heaven and hell”. My personal favorite run, written as follows: “Don’t you go confiscating my cocaine lines/ You don’t need me to tell you these are some trying times/ And if you wanna know what really sells/ Then you’d give us something to numb as of our visions of heaven and hell/ And don’t you go cuttin’ in those customs lines/ What’s mine will be mine and what’s yours will be mine/ And if you have a memory then you go and tell/ Your leaders to adopt their visions of heaven and hell/ And don’t you go crossing no church and state lines/ My Christian country is just about to reach its prime/ And if you wanna know how the Romans fell well, just examine their visions of heaven and hell”. This is an example of a song that may not catch your attention right away musically, but the lyrics are enough to keep you intently interested for multiple listens.

   “What She Said to Her Teacher” is the only song on the album which gives drums and bass a prominent piece of the action, and this is a well-placed change. This tune features a quick pace, upbeat bass line, and sprawling sporadic guitar solos. Just as soon as you get into this change of pace, the song is over and leads right into the much slower love song, “Sunny Babe”.

   Perhaps the best two-song run on American Archetypes are its two closers, “Prescriptions 3” and “The Old Days 4”. The beginning of “Prescriptions” has a very 60’s-soul feel to it, which is a prelude to the upcoming questions the troubled speaker asks about Otis Redding and “why he left so soon”. About halfway through the guitar and bass soulful-quiet, O’Keefe’s solemn vocals are joined with pounding drums and reverb-drenched backing vocals, adding to the angst and desperation. “Prescriptions 3” ends, “And angels danced upon electric lines in a bright and calmly dim/ And Jesus laid my bed upon the train tracks, so I laid down for him”. This man has finally had enough, succumbing to the drugs and thoughts haunting his own mind. If there were an “epic” song on American Archetypes, this would be it.

   At first I thought “Prescriptions” would be the best way to end this record, but its hard not to want a little something more, and “The Old Days 4” is almost like a bonus track, or second closer. At 7 minutes, 46 seconds, “The Old Days” is calming, but not tiring. I would compare it to Iron and Wine’s “The Trapeze Singer”, in that it is simple, long, and repetitive, but captivating the whole way through. Once again, the lyrics and Jimmy’s gruff vocals are at the forefront, which is the only way American Archetypes should end: “Dancing with the indians, dancing with the devil/ And dancing with a face full of dried-up tears”.

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