Right at the death of the year comes the belated British release of a magnificent debut album by a name we’re surely destined to hear a lot more of in 2003. Erin McKeown is a young woman from Massachusetts who dresses like she just stepped out of a sepia postcard mailed from somewhere in the Appalachian mountains circa 1930. She sounds like a cross between a less twee Be Good Tanyas and a more cheerful Gillian Welch, and Distillation could almost be a female companion volume to such early Ry Cooder albums as Boomer’s Story or Into The Purple Valley. Like those records, it leaves you wondering whether it’s folk, country or acoustic blues. The answer, of course, is that it’s all of them and more, with the odd washboard and yodel for good measure. McKeown’s voice has a delightfully unmediated honesty, and Dave Chalfant’s production sparkles with a bright, earthy, slightly brittle analogue sound that makes you wonder why anyone ever needed multi-tracking. Unlike Cooder, who was always essentially an interpreter, she’s a great songwriter, too. Memo to editor?can we please hear “How To Open My Heart In 4 Easy Steps” on the next free Uncut CD? It’s just about the track of the year.