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  • Jonathan Widran

KEEGAN McINROE, Dusty Passports and Empty Beds

The promo material for long celebrated Ft, Worth based troubadour Keegan McInroe’s long awaited, cleverly titled sixth album Dusty Passports and Empty Beds informs us listeners that, stylistically and vocally, the eight originals and one cover lean more towards his Kris Kristofferson influence than his established previous Tom Waitsian vibe.

But there’s a third legendary influence that’s even more prevalent on the new collection – country/folk singer/songwriter John Prine, who died from COVID-19 related complications early on in the pandemic era. McInroe includes two songs to pay homage to this great musical hero, a stark, heartfelt retooling of the dark yet colorful “Lonesome Friends of Science” (from Prine’s final studio album in 2018) and “John’s Songs,” a lively celebration (with spoken intro) of Prine’s life, told from a hopeful perspective despite the sorrow: “Life’s for the living/Death’s for the dead/So who’s to say we won’t get/To see ol’ John again…”

These two gems are backdrops for a collection of mostly dark-hearted, reflective tunes written while in lockdown at his mother’s home in Dublin, TX during the crisis, from the easy strumming “Big Year” through the lonesome transient tale “Traveler’s Wind.” Two blunt lines from the edgy folk blues song “Ey Brother” sum up the pervasive aesthetic: “Hard to see how things could change for the better/Yeah, it’s a wild world, ey brother.”

Though he also paints melancholy images of a lonesome “Thanksgiving Night” in a diner and laments a failing relationship in the infectious, higher energy “Only to Be Songs,” there are certain slivers of optimism amidst the gathering gloom. Like “Eat Drink and Be Merry,” a whimsical reminder to “have a party, have the best time/Takea long toke, pour the good wine/For tomorrow we die.”

It’s clear that McInroe is working through the tough times, angling hard and beautifully to see the light. Heartfelt, vulnerable and brutally honest, Dusty Passports and Empty Beds is one of the best pandemic inspired albums out there and is a must listen for fans of folk/Americana.   


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