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Judson McKinney invokes traveler's spirit on 'Drink the Wine'

October 28, 2011 |  2:40 pm

Judson McKinney
The lyrics of Judson McKinney’s folk-tinged songwriting  reflect all the restlessness and romance of driving a van cross-country. For the South Carolina native, that’s pretty much how the music for his latest album “Drink the Wine” (released digitally on Tuesday) was born. From trekking to L.A. from his native South Carolina with his wife Mary to busking on L.A.'s busy streets, there's no denying his veteran status as a road-tested troubadour.

McKinney, who ends his October residency at Casey’s Irish Pub in Downtown L.A. tonight, has gained notoriety as a songwriter and solo artist by delivering compelling tales about self-discovery and the risky business of falling in love. On stage he backs his image-heavy songs with a full band, complete with violins and alternating electric and acoustic guitar work, and the combination has made him one of the more compelling live acts around.

Some might remember McKinney and his wife pumping out frazzled folk over the airwaves of  KCRW-FM in 2010 when the couple released an EP called "In the Hands of the Sun." The latter was under the moniker Judson and Mary, and one of their more indelible tracks was the impassioned, bluesy battle hymn "William Jennings Bryan."

On the new record, you won’t find a ton of that thumping or violin-accented bombast, but McKinney’s honest songwriting still offers jarring jolts of emotion. On stage, songs  like “Sweet Autumn Headlight” and “Celia” are infused with an extra dose of attitude that you might not find as easily on the record.

“The songs have a traditional folk root to them but I don’t feel like I’m confined to the singer-songwriter thing," McKinney said. "I think  people who come are surprised at how rock 'n' roll the show gets."

The new album features McKinney's wife and his recently formed backing band, including Sheridan Riley of Avi Buffalo and bassist John Seasons of the L.A. band Seasons. The physical release of “Drink the Wine” is slated for Dec. 4.

McKinney’s experience as a cross-country traveler and a well-recognized L.A. artist -- he now lives in Highland Park -- has led to the refinement of tracks like “People Grow Up So Slow,” a tune started in Austin, Texas, and ended in California. Here he makes some acute observations about living in L.A. from the perspective of a South Carolina country boy.

“Adolescence really seems to go to about 30 years old at this point,” McKinney said. "You go to the backwoods of some foreign country and kids are working at the age of 10. They’re carrying Uzis, fighting in armies and we’re still partying at 32. Just something about that stuck with me.”

"People Grow Up So Slow" by Judson McKinney

Judson McKinney performs with Naive Thieves and special guests at Casey’s Irish Pub, 613 S. Grand Ave,
Los Angeles, 10 p.m. No cover. Age 21 minimum.


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-- Nate Jackson

Photo: From left, Sheridan Riley, Judson McKinney and John Seasons. Credit: Elliot Glass