Robert Earl Keen
Brooklyn Arts Center
516 N. 4th Street
2/1, 8 p.m. • $28-$40
Fifty is the new thirty. At least that’s what country singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen would have us believe. Listen to some of his songs, and it’s apparent he’s not slowing down anytime soon. Even some of his newest lyrics seem to mirror a lifestyle of partying and having a good time.
The 56-year-old native Texan—who is the current spokesman for the music licensing website Splother—has written and recorded 16 albums to date and has been touring the U.S. since the early ‘80s. He’s covered more miles than Delta Skymiles’ most prolific business travelers, playing 120 shows a year for diverse audiences of retirees and college students alike. After touring, Keen plans to write a novel—and after that, he says “[he] would like to do a lot more writing and maybe some teaching.” For now, he’s going to keep playing.
Robert Earl Keen is anything but a quitter. As a boy, he loved poetry, and was influenced by the country and folk music his parents listened to. He attended Texas A&M University in the late ‘70s and found himself disappointed in the college music scene. Thus, he took matters into his own hands and taught himself to play guitar. Keen set out to tell stories, entertain and make the audience happy.
“The lyrics I write are the heart and soul of the entertainment,” he tells encore. “I couldn’t have one without the other. I couldn’t stand up there and entertain without good songs, and I couldn’t write these songs if I didn’t have a place to entertain.”
Keen’s style has been described as country, folk, alternative, indie and rock; he runs the gamut of them all. However, he identifies most “with the Americana music movement, as it encapsulates so many of the styles of music” he grew up hearing.
And in true Americana fashion, he did it all on his own terms. He funded the recording of his first album, “No Kinda Dancer” (Rounder), in 1984. Among his discography to date, he has six live compilations and a “best-of” collection. He has collaborated with Lyle Lovett—singer, actor and friend from his college years—and actor Billy Bob Thornton. Lovett and Keen even co-wrote “This Front Porch” from his first record.
Last year, Keen released “Ready for Confetti” (Lost Highway Records) on August 30th, and much of it sounds just as fresh and witty as his early years. “Play a Train Song” tells the story of a man who dies laughing in his sleep and insists leaving his boots on even after death.
“Singing a train song/pour him one last round/Made ‘em leave his boots on/on the day they laid him down/He was a runaway locomotive/out of his one-track mind.”
The album also contains a re-recording of his 1993 hit, “Paint the Town Beige.” Keen chose the song because of the strong connection he has with its storyline.
“When I wrote it, the narrator or singer was an old outlaw whose wilder days were behind him,” he notes. “Yet, he couldn’t let it all go. Oddly enough, I’ve become that outlaw and it sums up my feelings today. I essentially grew into the song.”
One of Keen’s oldest tracks, “The Road Goes on Forever” (1989, “West Textures,” Sugar Hill Records) is arguably his most well-known. The song features eight different verses, each ending with the line, “The road goes on forever and the party never ends.” Fittingly, the song was re-released on “The Party Never Ends” in 2003 (Sugar Hill Records). Still, its esteem doesn’t completely resonate with the Southerner.
“When I write a song, I don’t really think about popularity or success with my audience,” he admits. “I just try to write the best I can and hope I get a kick out of it.”
And the road keeps calling Keen back year after year. The life of a touring musician is often described as a long, unending path (i.e. ongoing party). Inspired by events in his life, Robert Earl Keen continues connecting with audiences into his 30-year career.
“All my stories have some thread of true life in them,” he says. “However, I think it is much more fun to create a song around a story.”
His colorful tales are matched by engaging delivery. He can take the most dry or grim topic and lace it with sarcasm, humor and creative metaphors. Basically, he knows how to soften the blow for his audience.
“I love humor, and in a live situation, those kinds of songs always add some spice to the show,” he remarks. “I have plenty of serious songs, but I don’t take myself too seriously.”
Robert Earl Keen will stop in Wilmington on Wednesday, February 1st at the Brooklyn Arts Center (516 N. 4th St.). Advance tickets are $28.50 and $40, and all ages are welcome. Concert-goers can expect to hear a mixture of songs new and old.
“One thing I can tell you is, we play a different set list every night.” —Kaitlin Willow
Other shows to see this week!
141 N. Front St.
1/26, Free, 9 p.m.
Local band Jam Sandwich, formed in 1998, will play an assortment of different styles, ranging from blues to Southern rock at their Tre Benzio’s show on the 26th. Frontman Jason Schroer sings and plays harmonica, exuding an old-timey, classic sounds. They give off a feel-good vibe with their upbeat, tambourine-accented songs. Stay after the show for a late-night snack or drink, as Tre Benzio’s is open until 2:30 a.m. daily.
Great Zeus’ Beard
Soapbox Laundro Lounge
255 N. Front St.
1/28, Free or $5 for under 21, 10 p.m.
Local indie/alternative band Great Zeus’ Beard (an appropriate nod to encore’s favorite comedy, “Anchorman”) will be performing at the Soapbox on the 28th. The band, formed in 2008, released its self-titled EP in early 2009 and “Symposium” (pictured) in 2011. The band members take risks musically, break barriers and incorporate funky, almost alien-like sounds and heavy bass notes into their fast, electric beats.