Robert Earl Keen
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2001, Volume 8, #11
Written by John Metzger
Since his debut in 1984, Robert Earl Keen has quietly built a respectable career by combining clever, witty lyrics with twangy Texas melodies — never quite country, never quite rock 'n' roll. Like most talented singer-songwriters, however — including his heroes Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt — Keen has never really caught on with the mainstream, and he has struggled to carve out a niche for himself with music that shimmers its way across pop, rock, blues, folk, and country styles. Yet, it's exactly this utter brilliance that has helped Keen to develop a cult-like following of fans who anxiously await his every album and concert appearance.
With Gravitational Forces — his ninth release — his followers will not be disappointed. Here, Keen continues to embrace the alt-country format, creating what is perhaps the best stab at latter day Byrds-ian rock to be released in years. Hello New Orleans and Not a Drop of Rain loosely tap the country-folk gentility of The Ballad of Easy Rider; High Plains Jamboree and a cover of Johnny Cash's I Still Miss Someone come off as lost outtakes from Sweetheart of the Rodeo; and both Walkin' Cane and Goin' Nowhere Blues draw from the gritty country-blues inflections of Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde. Keen's band is top-notch; the music first-rate. Time and again, bass and drums punctuate in all the right places, and pedal steel glides over glistening guitar in a dance of gentle beauty.
Lyrically, Gravitational Forces weaves together a tapestry of tunes that surely dismiss the glamorous myth of the music business, from a disastrous and disheartening soundcheck to the lonely depths of despair that cling to a songwriter's life the road. As the title suggests, there are things in life that are beyond our command, and though Keen might like to have more control in his destiny, his life necessitates a more laid-back, take-it-as-it-comes attitude. Thus, all his frustrations and emotions pour forth in his songs as he tries to change the industry from within. He can't let it get the best of him; he simply must move on to the next town, the next concert hall, the next performance. And though there may be plenty of troubadours roaming the nation's highways with him, few can deliver songs and words half as well as Keen.
Of Further Interest...
Gravitational Forces is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box