Erin McKeownView in iTunes
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Raised in Fredricksburg, VA, singer/songwriter Erin McKeown began her folk career by performing in local clubs and coffeehouses at night. By day, she attended Brown University to study ethnomusicology, a field that would eventually fuel the diversity and depth of her own music. In 1995, McKeown entered the mid-Atlantic song contest held by the songwriters' association in Washington, DC, and finished as a semi-finalist. With proof that others believed in her talent, she worked hard to found a label of her own, where she could record her music free of outside constraints. After creating TVP Records, she enlisted help from artists like Ben Demerath, Katryna Nields, and Beth Amsel to record her debut album, Monday Morning Cold. In 2000, McKeown completed her second album, Distillation, which was initially released under her own TVP label before receiving wider exposure courtesy of a partnership with Signature Records. McKeown continued to shop various labels, and 2003's Grand marked her debut release for Nettwerk. Two years later, she and producer Tucker Martine came together to record We Will Become Like Birds, an album that featured duets with Argentine artist Juana Molina and singer/songwriter Peter Mulvey. North American tour dates with Ani DiFranco -- another female folk singer with a strong independent streak -- followed shortly thereafter. McKeown's skill on multiple instruments -- particularly guitar, piano, banjo, and mandolin -- earned her additional gigs, including a spot in the band Voices on the Verge and guest appearances on albums by Dan Bern, Andy Stochansky, 10,000 Maniacs, Martin Sexton, and Dar Williams. Her solo career remained at the top of her agenda, however, and she returned to the studio to record a standards album, Sing You Sinners, in 2006. Hundreds of Lions followed in 2009, marking McKeown's first release for Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label. McKeown also joined the board of the Future of Music Coalition and was a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society in 2012. For 2013's politically minded Manifestra -- which was funded via the PledgeMusic platform by her fans in six days -- McKeown co-wrote a song with MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow, collaborated with Polly Paulusma and Ryan Montbleau on other tracks and released the album on her own imprint, TVP Records. ~ Charlotte Dillon & Andrew Leahey