Two Commanding Female Singer-Songwriters Take Middnight on Main Stage

Amy Black, a country-crooning Boston transplant from the deep South, and Susan McKeown, an Irish-born world musician now exploring soulful Americana, each play two sets during the New Year's Eve celebration in Middletown.

Middletown's New Year's Eve celebration boasts an unprecedented number of highly accomplished musicians this year, some household names, others soon to be.

Two singer-songwriters worth lingering upon are perhaps lesser known, but not for long — New York City's Susan McKeown and Boston's Amy Black.

McKeown, 45, is an Irish songwriter, folk singer and producer who is marking half of her life in the States with her latest album released in November, Belong.

According to Nick Loss-Eaton, after exploring Celtic, Klezmer, African music and mariachi, 'Belong' finds McKeown in Americana. She has performed with Pete Seeger, Natalie Merchant, Linda Thompson, Billy Bragg, Arlo Guthrie Kathy Mattea, Jane Siberry, and The Klezmatics, and her album includes several odes to New York City, including "On The Bridge To Williamsburg."

“Wonder Wheel,” which she recorded with Guthrie, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music Album in 2006.

“No Jericho,” a beautiful and plaintive ballad, chronicles her journey from Ireland to New York City. The incomparable “Lullaby of Manhattan,” which hails the end of a relationship with the breaking of a bowl whose shards exist hidden underneath the floorboards of an apartment, showcases a grittier, McKeown, whose voice verges at moments into the shadows of a haunting madness.

McKeown plays two shows on Dec. 31 — at 3 and 4 p.m. at the Community Health Center.

A certain up-and-comer, Black, 40, a rather newly minted singer/songwriter and daughter of an Alabama preacher, who spend her young years between Missouri and Alabama, moved to Beantown at age 16, and spent her early career working in marketing at a software company. After 15 years, Black returned to the singing she had pursued in high school and college, then discovered she could write.

In April 2011, she released her sophomore album One Time, made up primarily of originals.

The breadth of Black’s musical repertoire is evidenced in songs like “Stay,” a happy, toe-tapping country number, and “Whiskey and Wine,” a tender and wise ballad, and the title tune, “One Time,” a swinging rocker that offers sage and sage advice to ladies lesser skilled in relationships.

Although Black counts Bonnie Raitt as her primary musical influence, most of her tunes owe a great debt to Michelle Shocked — another powerfully realized singer-songwriter who effortless mixes folk, blues, rock and roll and rhythm and blues to great effect.

Black plays in the Citizens Bank lobby at 8 and 9 p.m. on New Year's Eve.


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