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Robert Earl Keen

Among the large contingent of talented songwriters who emerged in Texas in the 1980s and '90s, Robert Earl Keen struck an unusual balance between sensitive story-portraits ("Corpus Christi Bay") and raucous barroom fun ("That Buckin' Song"). These two song types in Keen's output were unified by a mordant sense of humor that strongly influenced the early practitioners of what would become known as alternative country music. Keen, the son of an oil executive father and an attorney mother, was a native of Houston. His parents enjoyed both folk and country music, and his own style would land, like that of his close contemporary Nanci Griffith, between those genres. Keen wrote poetry while he was in high school, but it wasn't until he went to journalism school at musically fertile Texas A&M that he learned to play the guitar. He and Lyle Lovett became friends and co-wrote a song, "This Old Porch," which both later recorded.

Keen made a splash in Austin with his debut album, No Kinda Dancer, self-financed in 1984 to the tune of $4,500. He moved to Nashville during the heady experimentalism of the '80s that saw Lovett and k.d. lang hit the country Top Ten, but he soon returned to Austin. Texas landscapes and residents provided Keen with creative inspiration, as his second album, West Textures, made clear; that album yielded one of Keen's signature numbers, an ambitious crime-spree song called "The Road Goes on Forever." Now recording for Sugar Hill, Keen recorded a live album shortly after West Textures but waited several years to release a studio follow-up, 1993's A Bigger Piece of Sky. After that album (which contained "Corpus Christi Bay") came Gringo Honeymoon (1994), which merged Keen's story-songs with the emerging sounds of alt-country: guitars were laid down by the influential Austin musician Gurf Morlix, who later produced albums for both Keen and Lucinda Williams, and a young Gillian Welch provided harmony vocals.

Once again, after taking his career to a new stage, Keen recorded a live album (No. 2 Live Dinner, 1996) and took time to accumulate new material. The 1997 album Picnic, his first for the Arista Texas label, again moved in the direction of alternative country, featuring Keen in a duet with the Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins, while 1998's Walking Distance featured sparer textures. Whatever production style surrounded his songs, Keen's musical personality seemed consistent, and his live shows, widely known thanks to a touring schedule that often approached 200 dates a year in the '90s, grew organically in depth and control. In the early 2000s, Keen signed with the Lost Highway label and released the album Gravitational Forces (2001). He also devoted time to his influential annual concert series and talent festival, Texas Uprising, which took place at several venues around Texas and the Far West.

The year 2003 saw the release of his eighth studio album, the amiable Farm Fresh Onions, as well as The Party Never Ends: Songs You Know from the Times You Can't Remember, a compilation of Keen's Sugar Hill days. His next release was 2005's What I Really Mean for the Koch label. It was followed in 2006 by Live at the Ryman. Rose Hotel, his first recording with famed producer Lloyd Maines, appeared in 2009 on Lost Highway. Keen decided to experiment for his next album, and began writing on the road instead of in his small, solitary cabin in the hinterlands of Texas. Once again recruiting Maines as producer, he cut 11 new songs -- among them nine originals including a re-recording of "Paint the Town Beige" from 1993's Bigger Piece of Sky -- and a couple of covers. It was released as Ready for Confetti on Lost Highway in the summer of 2011. Three years later, Keen and Maines made their way back to the studio with a band of first-rate acoustic pickers (including Danny Barnes of the Bad Livers) and some high-profile duet partners (Lyle Lovett and Natalie Maines) to record a collection of classic bluegrass covers; the album, Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions, was released by Dualtone in February 2015. ~ James Manheim
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Ready For Confetti

1. Black Baldy Stallion

2. Ready For Confetti

3. I Gotta Go

4. Lay Down My Brother

5. The Road Goes On And On

6. Show The World

7. Waves On The Ocean

8. Top Down

9. Play A Train Song

10. Who Do Man

11. Paint The Town Beige

12. Soul Of Man

x

Track List: The Rose Hotel

1. The Rose Hotel

2. Flyin' Shoes

3. Throwin' Rocks

4. 10,000 Chinese Walk Into A Bar

5. Something I Do

6. The Man Behind The Drums

7. Goodbye Cleveland

8. Laughing River

9. On And On

10. Village Inn

11. Wireless In Heaven

x

Track List: Best

1. No Kinda Dancer

2. Willie

3. Armadillo Jackal

4. Paint The Town Beige

5. Whenever Kindness Fails

6. Corpus Christi Bay

7. Merry Christmas From The Family

8. Road (Intro)

9. Road Goes On Forever

10. Furnace Fan

11. All I Have Is Today

12. Let The Music Play

13. For Love

14. Mr. Wolf And Mama Bear

15. Ride

16. Feeling Good Again

17. Gringo Honeymoon

18. I'm Comin' Home

x

Track List: Live At The Ryman

1. Feelin' Good Again (Live)

2. Gringo Honeymoon (Live)

3. What I Really Mean (Live)

4. Shades Of Gray (Live)

5. Amarillo Highway (Live)

6. Merry Christmas From The Family (Live)

7. Corpus Christi Bay (Live)

8. Furnace Fan (Live)

9. Broken End Of Love (Live)

10. Long Chain (Live)

11. Train Trek (Live)

12. I'm Comin' Home (Live)

13. The Road Goes On Forever (Live)

14. Farm Fresh Onions (Live)

x

Track List: Farm Fresh Onions

1. Furnace Fan

2. All I Have Is Today

3. Out Here In The Middle

4. Train Trek

5. Farm Fresh Onions

6. Floppy Shoes

7. Gone On

8. So Sorry Blues

9. Beats The Devil

10. These Years

11. Famous Words

12. Let The Music Play

13. Data Track

x

Track List: Gravitational Forces

1. My Home Ain't In The Hall Of Fame

2. Hello New Orleans

3. Wild Wind

4. Not A Drop Of Rain

5. I Still Miss Someone

6. Fallin' Out

7. High Plains Jamboree

8. Walkin' Cane

9. Goin' Nowhere Blues

10. Snowin' On Raton

11. Gravitational Forces

12. The Road Goes On Forever

x

Track List: Walking Distance

1. Down That Dusty Trail

2. Travelin' Light

3. Feelin' Good Again

4. That Buckin' Song

5. I'll Be Here For You

6. Billy Gray

7. Theme: Road To No Return / Carolina

8. New Life In Old Mexico

9. Still Without You / Conclusion: Road To No Return

10. (Silent Track)

11. Happy Holidays Y'All

x

Track List: Picnic

1. Undone

2. Over The Waterfall

3. Levelland

4. I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight

5. Oh Rosie

6. Runnin' With The Night

7. The Coming Home Of The Son And Brother

8. Shades Of Grey

9. Fourth Of July

10. Then Came Lo Mein

x

Track List: #2 Live Dinner

1. Intro (Live)

2. I'm Going To Town (Live)

3. Gringo Honeymoon (Live)

4. Merry Christmas From The Family (Live)

5. Five Pound Bass (Live)

6. Band Intro (Live)

7. Rolling By (Live)

8. Sonora's Death Row (Live)

9. When The Bluebonnets Bloom (Live)

10. Think It Over One Time (Live)

11. Amarillo Highway (Live)

12. The Road Intro (Live)

13. The Road Goes On Forever (Live)

14. Dreadful Selfish Crime (Live)

15. Mariano Intro (Live)

16. Mariano (Live)

17. I'm Comin' Home (Live)

x

Track List: Gringo Honeymoon

1. Think It Over One Time

2. Tom Ames' Prayer

3. Gringo Honeymoon

4. The Raven And The Coyote

5. Lonely Feeling

6. Merry Christmas From The Family

7. Barbeque

8. Lynnville Train

9. I'm Comin' Home

10. Dreadful Selfish Crime

x

Track List: Bigger Piece Of The Sky

1. Amarillo Highway

2. Corpus Christi Bay

3. Whenever Kindness Fails

4. Blow You Away

5. Jesse With The Long Hair

6. Night Right For Love

7. Paint The Town Beige

8. Daddy Had A Buick

9. Crazy Cowboy Dream

10. Here In Arkansas

11. So I Can Take My Rest

12. Blow You Away (Reprise)

x

Track List: West Textures

1. Sing One For Sister

2. The Road Goes On Forever

3. Maria

4. Sonora's Death Row

5. Mariano

6. Don't Turn Out The Light

7. Leavin' Tennessee

8. Jennifer Johnson And Me

9. The Five Pound Bass

10. It's The Little Things

11. Love's A Word I Never Throw Around

x

Track List: Live Album

1. I Wanna Know (Live)

2. The Front Porch Song (Live)

3. Goin' Down In Style (Live)

4. If I Were King (Live)

5. Copenhagen (Live)

6. I Would Change My Life (Live)

7. Stewball (Live)

8. I'll Go On Downtown (Live)

9. The Bluegrass Widow (Live)

10. Who'll Be Looking Out For Me (Live)

x

Track List: No Kinda Dancer

1. No Kinda Dancer

2. The Front Porch Song

3. Between Hello & Goodbye

5. Christabel

6. Willie

7. Young Lovers Waltz

9. Rolling By

10. The Armadillo Jackal

11. Song For Kathy

x

Track List: Footprints In The Snow (Single)

1. Footprints In The Snow

x

Track List: Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions (Deluxe Edition)

1. Hot Corn, Cold Corn

2. 52 Vincent Black Lightning

3. Footprints In The Snow

4. 99 Years For One Dark Day (With Peter Rowan)

5. East Virginia Blues

6. Poor Ellen Smith

7. Long Black Veil

8. This World Is Not My Home

9. T For Texas (With Lyle Lovett)

10. Peter Rowan Intro

11. Walls Of Time

12. White Dove

13. Old Home Place

14. Twisted Laurel

15. Wayfaring Stranger (With Natalie Maines)

16. Little Cabin Home On The Hill

17. Dark As A Dungeon

18. I'm Troubled, I'm Troubled

19. 14 Carat Mind

20. Steam Powered Aeroplane

x

Track List: Hot Corn, Cold Corn (Single)

1. Hot Corn, Cold Corn

x

Track List: T For Texas (Single)

x

Track List: Wayfaring Stranger (Single)

x

Track List: What I Really Mean

1. For Love

2. Mr. Wolf and Mamabear

3. What I Really Mean

4. The Great Hank

5. The Wild Ones

6. Long Chain

7. Broken End Of Love

8. The Dark Side of the World

9. The Traveling Storm

10. A Border Tragedy

11. Ride

Comments

Report as inappropriate
gemeterio62
PARTY
Report as inappropriate
gemeterio62
For f**kin ever
Report as inappropriate
Love REK
Report as inappropriate
I like almost all of his songs
Report as inappropriate
brumbo78
Eee
Report as inappropriate
If you ever go see him, you will every time he's in town. Social !!
Report as inappropriate
I just dont care for main strim country anymore but my texas reddurt is where my hart is i love all my texas oklahoma singers
Report as inappropriate
I saw him for the first time last night at the Pisgah Brewery, awesome.
Report as inappropriate
Nudnik
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toni.mcnulty
I can't listen to Robert Earl Keen without thinking about Steven Fromholtz, the penultimate Austin storytelling songwriter and big influence on Keen's music.
Report as inappropriate
Don't read this. You will be kissed on the nearest Friday by your love of your life. Now you started this don't stop this is freaky. But if you ignore it you will have really bad luck. Put this on 15 songs in 144 mins. When you are done press the spacebar and your crushes name will appear on the screen this is so freaky it really works
Report as inappropriate
just saw him with Lyle Lovett and it was a magical evening. what a great storyteller
Report as inappropriate
Five Star Special (*****)
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Love me my REK!
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more guy clark please
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Favorite songs of all time, damn, they just make you smile! Thanks for signing my guitar at "the handlebar" Greenville.
Report as inappropriate
Happy birthday Robert!
Report as inappropriate
Kool style, real talent.
Report as inappropriate
rrrte23
I was reading Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses at the same time as I was listening to REK's West Textures and I felt like I had a book with its own soundtrack. I began putting the book and cd together as gifts. And, since it is Christmas - and if you know anyone who harbors any romance about the border, you could do worse.
Report as inappropriate
rrrte23
I liked him better back before he found hanging out with drunks was so lucrative. Someone in here said no one mentions Mariano - those were the days when you listened to a song and thought you just read a biography. There's a love song Maria which has a line about nothing left for dreams to steal which I never got.
Report as inappropriate
Reminds me of my hometown in Texas. :)
Report as inappropriate
Anyone with three names usually kicks some country a**.
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Everything is better in TEXAS my home state.
Report as inappropriate
What I really mean....don' t go on trips without it.
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Where has he been all my life he is awesome
Report as inappropriate
This guy is awesome...
Report as inappropriate
Funny how ALL the GREAT ones come from Texas.
Report as inappropriate
cool
Report as inappropriate
Didn't know u were a aggie
Report as inappropriate
lvburnett
Thank you Robert for putting Levelland,Te x a s on the map,because it is blowing away as we speak,Still GOD BLESS South Plains College! It has brought a bit of talent through the South Plains of Texas...Grea t Stuff People....
Report as inappropriate
No one mentions Mariano, a lovely, haunting soulful story song.
Report as inappropriate
I'm a simple minded guy with simple pleasures. I get lost in the story telling and feel meloncolley.
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I'm coming home to you. Good song/ \
Report as inappropriate
Damn, what about Merry Xmas from the Family - an all time classic!
Report as inappropriate
embrybyrd
BIGBYRD62
REK one of the greastest storytellers . A lyrical genius.Willy , Armadillo jackal, some kind if dancer.. thank you sir!!!
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Hi
Report as inappropriate
Very enjoyable. Onward Ty. Lt
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♪♫♪♥*•♫♪♥*•♫ ♪ ♥ * • ♫ ♪ ♥
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nicko, it's The Party Never Ends (Songs You Know From the Times You Can't Remember.
Report as inappropriate
MR kEEN MR KEEN I'm FEELING GOOD AGAIN MYSELF ONE MORE BUD FOR RIDE :)
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THANK U FOR THE BESTED DAMM BBQ,BEER
Report as inappropriate
Reminds me of my young life in Presido, Tx. What a hoot!
Report as inappropriate
michaelsauto
No mention of any of his great band members. The fiddle player who is as REK used to say, my best friend since the forth grade or the great guitar man, Rich Brotherton.
Report as inappropriate
Gotta love at least one of his songs, seen em twice concert drove threw a park on the sidewalk just to see REK and we were all sober, great entertainer thx REK!
Report as inappropriate
John Boat and a five pound Bass..... nothing better....
Report as inappropriate
Honestly, this guy can write songs but he's not that good of a singer. IMO, undone, Mariano, shades of grey and Lynville train are his best and they were covered by excellent artists. Especially Mariano and undone were exceptionall y well done
Report as inappropriate
I can handle this its like Uncle Kracker after a few more beers.
Report as inappropriate
txgoatgirl
Robert Earl is an amazing Guy! Im bestfriends with his daughter!
Report as inappropriate
Yeah, who wrote out here in the middle? was that Mc murtry or REK?

McMurtry.
Report as inappropriate
mpeeples46
I love RE Keen, but he did not write Levelland. That was writen by James McMurtry, another in a long line of great Texas songwriters. Music is the best thing about Texas.
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