The title of Erin McKeown's newest album doesn't imply that the energetic singer-songwriter has puffed up visions of herself.
In fact, "Grand" seems only to convey the 26-year-old's aspirations to weave songs and stories into music in the best way she can, while holding true to her individual, funky style.
McKeown's theories on songwriting and her music are very grounded for an up-and-coming artist.
"I always feel like I have far to go," McKeown said in a barely perceptible lilting southern accent that hints at her childhood in Fredericksburg, Va. "And that's good because it keeps me working."
The young musician has been in the business professionally for half a dozen years or so. Her musical life began at a young age with piano lessons at 3.
Her performing career harkens back to her early teen years, when McKeown played rhythm guitar for an all-boy garage rock band.
"I wasn't very good," she said. "I couldn't really play, and I couldn't sing."
At some point during her high school years that all changed.
"In the intervening years between the early years of high school and the later years I just played a lot, by myself or with friends," McKeown said.
But she said she isn't sure she ever dreamed of earning the acclaim she has garnered for herself from critics around the world.
The likes of Rolling Stone, National Public Radio, Mojo magazine and papers nationwide have raved about McKeown's ability to win an audience and control a stage with her whimsical, upbeat lyrics.
Big and small venue alike, McKeown said she likes to connect to her audience.
"I like it when people talk to me," she said. "I like people to pay attention."
And there's a lot to pay attention to.
McKeown's jazz, musical theater, pop and folk-infused creations are smart and fun at the same time. In a way, her work defies precise stereotyping and McKeown said she thinks that will play to her advantage.
Neither precisely pop nor folk, McKeown's work opens her up for a wide fan base.
It has been called pop 'n' roll, and McKeown can handle that.
"It makes a lot of sense," she said. "You hope for the energy of pop music and the rock and roll."
This aspiration is apparent in each track of her new album. It is happier, groovier and a little more mature than her previous record, "Distillation," which, since its release in 2000, has sold more than 30,000 copies.
"I think I'd be in the wrong business if I made the same record every time," McKeown said. "I think 'Grand' is just the next step."
"Grand" was written in the fall of 2002 when McKeown and her partners in crime holed up at Longview Farms Studio in Massachusetts. In two weeks, two-thirds of the album was recorded.
What emerged is a bigger sound, she said one that is more likely the type of rhythm and vibe spinning on McKeown's own CD player. Lately Mc-Keown's musical taste has been "Justified" by Justin Timberlake and Pink, and she is looking forward to the release of Nelly Furtado's newest work.
"I love all kinds of music, and I think most people are like that. I love to move music, I love to be surprised by music, so I wanted "Grand" to be all these things now," McKeown writes on the album's introduction.
Beyond pop, "Grand" draws its inspiration in part from the life and work of musical film star Judy Garland.
"I didn't really plan on making a record that was related to her, but it happened," she said.
At least five of the songs on "Grand" relate in some way to actress the of "Wizard of Oz" and "Meet Me in St. Louis" fame.
"Judy Garland was an underlying theme of this record, hinting at everything from song titles to story lines to time periods and I thought the record could use one of her songs to focus on her presence," McKeown writes in "Grand's" track notes.
So, she added a slower version of "Lucky Day," a song written for and sung by Garland in her speedy fashion.
Another, "Cosmopolitan," is based on Garland's audio diary.
The sound and feel of all "Grand's" tracks hit an optimistic tune, but a closer listen reveals darker, more introspective analysis from a young artist questioning life and her career.
McKeown said her songs come from personal experience and act as a way to foray into unknown worlds.
"I like the idea of both those things. I just sort of come and get out of the way," she said, explaining that it is easier for her to let the music take its own course. "Honestly, songs creep up on me by surprise. My songs are certainly me."
Since the release of "Grand," McKeown has been on the road nearly nonstop, jetting between the United States and Europe for sold-out concerts.
On Tuesday she headed west from her home in Massachusetts to Seattle and then further north for a show at Alice's Champagne Palace in Homer at 8 p.m. today. On Sunday, she will perform at 7:30 p.m. at Peninsula Grace Brethren Church on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna.
This is McKeown's third trek north to Alaska. Previously though, she hasn't ventured to the Kenai Peninsula.
"I'm pretty excited," she said. "Personally, I think October is a wonderful time to come to Alaska."
In the past, McKeown said, she has seen good turnouts at her shows in Anchorage and Palmer, so she is curious to see how next week's audiences shape up.
As for the future, McKeown is content to see where her voice can take her.
"I'll just keep doing my thing and see what happens," she said.
Tickets for McKeown's Sunday show are $20 for general admission and $18 for seniors, students and KDLL members. Admission for children under 12 is free.
For more information on McKeown's work, see www.erinmckeown.com.
Carly Bossert is a reporter for the Homer News.
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