Two Texas treasures release terrific new albums:
Robert Earl Keen – Ready for Confetti (Lost Highway) 2011
George Strait – Here For a Good Time (MCA Nashville) 2011
by Andrew W. Griffin
Red Dirt Report, editor
King George and REK released new albums within weeks of each other and while one will (typically does) receive far more media attention, both records deserve equal scrutiny, and, ultimately, multiple listens.
With Keen, we get Ready for Confetti, a follow-up to the mediocre disc The Rose Hotel. I’ve long been a fan of Robert Earl Keen and he seems to be taking a somewhat different musical approach on this musical adventure, his 16th release.
This is where I want to point out that the best song here is the musical version of a lobbed bomb and it’s appropriately called “The Road Goes On and On.”
Last year, when Norman’s Toby Keith – a wonder to behold –released “Bullets in the Gun” it was shocking to one and all what a blatant ripoff it was of REK’s classic “The Road Goes On Forever.” At the time, I wrote: “I think Robert Earl Keen has a strong case against Toby Keith, stronger, say, than the one The Chiffons had on George Harrison back in the 1970’s when they won a suit against for ‘My Sweet Lord.’”
And Keen did have a strong case. But instead of taking Keith to court, he took him to the court of public opinion and in the best way he knew how – via a song. And the song, “The Road Goes On and On” absolutely DESTROYS Toby Keith.
With a similar cadence and storytelling style, Keen calls the big, dumb Okie “superstitious,” “uncool,” a “loudmouthed fool,” “a jack-in-the-box, in a clown suit,” who wears a tin star on his bulletproof vest and atop his drunken horse “robbed a train, but your gun misfired … blew a hole right through your shoe.”
Adds Keen, the vitriol dripping from his lips: “You lost your grip on that flag you wave / But you wave it right or wrong”
Holy smokes! And I thought my review of Keith’s Bullets in the Gun, in his hometown newspaper, The Norman Transcript, was the only way he was going to hear from critics. REK wrote him a freakin’ song! Brilliant!
Taking an obvious cue from Jimmy Buffett’s laidback, beach-inspired style and everyman wordplay, the title track
A quirky singalong, verses on “Ready for Confett” look something like this: “I knew this psychic many years ago / he’d been abducted by a UFO / they took him to another galaxy / he read them fortunes and they set him free / he once was a very famous scientist / said living in the future is too hard to resist / get ready for confetti … hey, hey hey …”
In Keen’s true tradition of the Texas hardluck folk song and story, “I Gotta Go” hits the jackpot in this regard.
Texas harmonica player and Willie Nelson pal Mickey Rapahael (the only musician to flat-out refuse me an interview) helps propel Keen’s cozy cover of Todd Snider’s “Play a Train Song.”
Sounding like a needle was dropped on a scratchy old country-blues song, “Lay Down My Brother” catches up with the modern world while remaining firmly in another time, surrounded by a certain sadness. It’s actually a beautiful song, Rich Brotherton and Deani Flemmings offering some gorgeous harmonies.
“Waves on the Ocean” gets a little beachy, as you might expect and the steel guitar on “Top Down” helps give the breezy song an almost dream-like quality and is reminiscent of his work on 2005’s wonderful What I Really Mean.
“Paint the Town Beige,” a song Keen revisits after his original recording 18 years earlier, sounds a little more authentic, now that Keen is older and wiser and more apt to look back at his earlier years with a certain amount of fondness.
So, what of George Strait’s new one, Here For a Good Time? Well, it’s just about what you’d expect the king of country music to offer up and then some. The fact that Strait, along with his son Bubba Strait, have written 7 of the 11 songs on the album, is amazing in itself since he typically has relied on other songwriters.
Strait isn’t breaking any new ground on the strong opening track “Love’s Gonna Make It,” but that shouldn’t bother his legions of fans too much. The title track? Yeah, pretty much the same musical approach – upbeat, accessible and fun.
Texas singer-songwriter Cory Morrow could have easily have written and sung his cover of Delbert McClinton’s “Lone Star Blues,” a road-trippin’, honky-tonker of a country song which rhymes “Brown and Root”with “Cut and Shoot.” Only in the Lone Star State, y’all.
But it’s not all good times and sunshine. The album also has its darker moments.
With a spare musical setting, “Drinkin’ Man” has a lyrical impact that is refreshing in it’s honesty and candor. An alcoholic since his teen years, the singer shares the story of a man struggling with a serious problem seeking a solution. A pretty powerful track, all told.
Keeping that theme in mind, the moody ballad “Poison” makes the subject matter a little broader, noting how addiction to anything can ultimately make you give up all that’s good.
Sings Strait: “You can learn to love anything / a prison wall, a ball and chain / Anything can bring you pleasure, even pain.”
There’s a real “tear-in-your beer,” honky-tonk quality to “Shame on Me” is a bit uninspired, but coming from George Strait sounds smooth as butter, especially with that pedal steel pulling your emotions hither and yon. This is one of the tracks George and Bubba wrote together.
And with Dean Dillon pitching in, George and Bubba pull off writing the smooth “House Across the Bay,” a romantic song that would’ve fit well on his countrypolitan-oriented It Just Comes Natural from a few years ago.
Faith Hill appears on the slightly dull “A Showman’s Life,” while the church-friendly“Three Nails and a Cross” has a positive, Christian message, it kind of falls flat to this ear.
And if there is a song here I could have done without is the silly “Blue Marlin Blues.” It’s great George is hanging out in the Keys and fishing and it’s even better that he is not overtly aping Jimmy Buffett, unlike Robert Earl Keen (“Ready for Confetti”) as I noted earlier.
And Strait closes out Here For a Good Time with a terrific song of appreciation called “I’ll Always Remember You,” which has the Texan remembering back to ’81, when it all started for him and how he’s thankful to all the fans for standing by him three decades into his successful career. Pretty classy!
Copyright 2011 West Marie Media
(Posted with permission at Country’s Chatter)
Thanks to my buddy, Andrew, for a great review. I don’t know Robert Earl Keen, but I am definitely going to check out his music.
I plan on spending much of my Sunday catching up on e-mail. Hopefully I’ll get most of you answered soon.