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Matt Keating

Matt Keating started out the hard way -- on the streets. After a stint at a Boston piano bar in the late '80s, Keating hit the road, performing for cash in New York City subway stations and on European street corners, slowly honing his chops and developing an idiosyncratic approach rooted in the acoustic Americana tradition. In the early '90s, his demo tape reached the ears of Southern California-based Alias Records, which had just released an album by the similarly oriented American Music Club, who signed him.

Keating's debut album Tell It to Yourself appeared in 1993, and was followed by two other LPs and an EP for Alias. While Keating had a hard time finding an audience, critics responded emphatically to his blend of melancholic Americana-derived singer-songwriter balladry and pluckier, messier, band-oriented power-pop, drawing comparisons to AMC, Neil Young, and Elvis Costello.

But despite the strength of his records and the success of folky, intimate artists like Richard Buckner, Elliott Smith, and Jeff Buckley, Keating continued to have trouble getting noticed. His 2001 album, Tiltawhirl, originally appeared on the European label Poptones to little fanfare, but Future Farmer got hold of it and reissued it in the summer of 2002.

It showcases the talent of one of the best-kept secrets on the independent rock/folk circuit. Keating's reedy, personable warble sees you through the album's mishaps and hard times, from Texas's controversial execution of Karla Faye Tucker ("It's a Shame") to post-love affair resignation ("Beautiful") to a lonesome adult's observations of teenage romance ("Window Booth") to sweltering murder poetry ("Jacksonville"). Though often bitter and desolate, Tiltawhirl stuns with its honesty and intimacy.