Art and activism. It’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins with traveled Orlando musician Beth McKee. But these days, that separation matters less and less.
Musician Beth McKee is the gestalt of all the places she’s settled. From her native Mississippi where she learned the blues firsthand from Malaco Records session musicians to her immersion in the scenes of Austin, New Orleans, and now Orlando – all their musical terroir is in her sound. But those influences, too, have become less distinct in the distillation of Beth’s aesthetic. You’ll recognize the hues if you really wanna parse it. But if you just listen, you’ll hear a sound that is quintessentially Southern. It’s tapped from the roots and rolls like honey. And that voice is rich and fortified but never has to peacock to show its easy radiance.
A working pianist since she was 14, Beth McKee’s identity really began when she moved to Austin, Texas. From the trenches of bars and blues bands, she was recruited by harmonica legend Greg “Fingers” Taylor to join his band and embarked on a tour opening for Jimmy Buffett. Afterwards, Beth moved to New Orleans to join noted ‘90s bayou-country band Evangeline, which was discovered and signed by Buffett to his Margaritaville Records label. She released two albums with Evangeline before setting out to make her own mark.
Beth’s solo career has spanned this decade with several albums, including a 2010 tribute to Louisiana music icon Bobby Charles (I’m That Way). The legend himself was so impressed with her interpretations of his songs that she was invited to sing with him on his own record Timeless, the last before his death. “Bobby Charles mastered simplicity and universal truth in his songs; Beth was his favorite interpreter of the bared-soul truth his songs communicated,” says Jim Bateman, Charles’ longtime manager. “Everything she does taps into that universal thread that everyone understands without thinking.”
In addition to touring and coordinating the Swamp Sistas, Beth mentors songwriters, conducts songwriting clinics as musical “informances” at various Southern universities, and hosts a songwriters series in Orlando to showcase homegrown and visiting talent, as well as road-test her own material.
While her records are slices of soul, Beth McKee’s energy has progressively become more oversoul. As the founding principal of Swamp Sistas, she mobilizes an ever-growing alliance of over 2,700 creative and active Southern women that’s inclusive of all age and genre. More relevant than ever, the Swamp Sistas support not just each other but their home communities at large. Artistically, they collaborate, mentor, and perform in the Swamp Sistas Songwriter Circle. Philanthropically, they organize and perform to raise money and awareness for targeted local causes and organizations like Second Harvest Food Bank in major events like the Swamp Sistas La Las, Beth’s big reimagination of the traditional Creole house party.
NEW ALBUM: DREAMWOOD ACRES
Releasing 16 May 2018, Dreamwood Acres is produced by Mitch Easter protégé John Pfiffner and features collaborators from the jangle-pop god’s inner circle. The subtly lush album is a furtherance of Beth McKee’s signature of roots music that rides the idyllic backroads of soul, gospel, blues, folk, pop, and rock. Here, she steps even further out with some newer indie threads (“Resurrection Mary,” “In Between the Lines”). It’s a golden Southern kaleidoscope that’s emotionally embracing and smolderingly smooth. So recline, maybe grab a glass, and dig in.