I’m embarrassed to admit that I sometimes forget about Robert Earl Keen. I don’t know how it happens, but for periods of time he seems to slip right through the middle of Spotify’s triangulation of my listening interests to create those daily mix playlists and slip down the chain of Pandora radio stations so I don’t see him there towards the top when choosing the next one. On blind grabs, my koozie drawer seems to offer up a REK koozie less than I’d suspect was statistically warranted. Ditto for country t-shirt grabs.
But each time REK does come back around – this time it was thanks to the Jason Boland/Cody Canada cover of Shades of Gray from Undone coming on – it’s a lightening bolt reminder of not only how great he is, but also of some of the very best things about country. No matter how many times I hear his songs, his content is fresh and original – he tells stories with ups/downs, characters and emotions. And picayune details. The stories feel authentic. They do not feel like they were written to trend on twitter. His content is funny, sometimes it’s a poke of darker irony, but more often it’s silliness – either cleverly woven into the fabric of a story or sometimes just for its own sake.
Performance is important too. The same song can take on very different feels, depending on tempo, instruments, delivery, etc. But back on lyrics and content, most REK songs make me feel like he’s capturing experiences, rather than performing. It feels like what he has to sing about is unlimited. Probably a couple other songwriters still recording who fall into the same camp – want to think more about that – but the most similar, modern comp that I’ve thought this about is or was Evan Felker and Turnpike Troubadours.
Anyway, great reminder! Robert-Earl-Keen.