Robert Earl Keen brings his legendary rowdy Texas country

by DGO Web Administrator

Texas should be thanked for the singer-songwriter, arguably the state’s greatest export. Forget Texas Toast, Shiner Bock, or The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. It’s the contributions of Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt and others that make Texas great. There’s also Robert Earl Keen, the Houston native who continues to reel in new fans because of upbeat shows backed by a kick-ass band, a guy with a backpack full of songs worthy of a drunken sing-a-long.

Keen is a songwriter with a natural ability to make you, the listener, the main character in his songs. You’re the one getting dumped, you’re the one going fishing and you’re the one on the road that goes on forever where the party never ends. Void of ambiguity and mystery, some of these tales put to song may be fiction and some may be the truth, but they’re all short stories that hit close to home.

“My friend and former bandmate was telling me that people want to know what I’m like,” said Keen in a recent phone interview. “He tells them to listen to the music and you’ll learn about Robert Earl Keen. All of my songs are very personal.”

Keen’s last record was 2015’s “Happy Prisoner,” influenced by the bluegrass music he grew up around. It’s a genre that lies close to his sound, a blend of classic country and American rock ’n’ roll. For this tour, his band will include Brian Beken and Kym Warner, from bluegrass bands Milk Drive and The Greencards, holdovers from the tour supporting his last album. It’s all part of his ongoing exploration of roots music, which owes as much to NRBQ and The Beatles as it does Doc Watson or Bill Monroe.

“We not only enhanced our world into the bluegrass realm, it enhanced my band as it exists, which has always been a country-garage band” Keen said. “It’s a really cool thing; I’m having the time of my life because I’ve got this great band.”

The highway of Americana is littered with many a troubadour armed with poems, pen and paper. Songwriters have been discarded like broken bottles along a New Mexico highway, often the victims of excess, success or bad luck. Keen wasn’t one to fret about his future with worry or gauging where his career would go. From the get-go he was comfortable in his sense of place and confident in his role, which has resulted in respect as a songwriter with a die-hard following while thousands of flavors of the month have come and gone.

“I didn’t know where I’d be regarded, but I knew I’d last this long,” Keen said. “You know that whole ‘young guns’ or ‘new turks’ or whatever they want to call you, I would look around and think ‘none of these people are going to be here in 10 years’ and they aren’t. I knew I was the guy who is still going to be here, I’ve always known that.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].

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