Black Music Matters Festival

Keith Sykes

Don't Count Us Out – 2001 (Syren)

Reviewed by Scott Homewood

CDs by Keith Sykes

Fortunately for Keith Sykes, his songs can excel in both mainstream country styles and folk/bluegrass. When he strips his songs bare instrumentally, one can clearly hear the ache in his voice and the pure sorrow in the tender stories. Sykes is a formidable talent as he ably conveys his innermost thoughts in a way that seems to connect with the heart of the listener. The opener "Country Morning Music" and "Broken Homes" are especially good examples of this wit the latter a meaningful song about divorced families.

When he chooses to rock out a little, Sykes brings aboard a bunch of talented ringers like John Mellencamp guitarist Larry Crane and pianist Ross Rice among others to flesh out his interesting and well-written songs. Sykes also likes to sing with others and invites Rodney Crowell, John Prine, Iris DeMent and Susan Marshall to harmonize. The Crowell song, which he co-wrote, is especially good.

Overall, Sykes seems able to not only bridge a gap between genres but also make his songs both heartfelt and touching without becoming sappy or maudlin. (Box 280121, Memphis, TN 38168, 901-867-7175)