Down in his native Texas, Robert Earl Keen is a legend in his own time: a songwriter’s songwriter whose songs have been covered by such esteemed peers (and heroes) as Joe Ely, the Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash) and his old college chum, Lyle Lovett. Those high-profile covers have spread the word on Keen well beyond the Lone Star State, though his own road-dog work ethic has helped expand his following, too. Although his short stint in Nashville in the ’80s didn’t yield a country radio presence, Keen’s built up a mighty impressive following by working (and writing) his ass off well under the mainstream radar. His songs are smart and heartfelt, literary and visceral, beautiful and — often as not — flat out rocking. All that intriguing dichotomy comes through loud and clear both on record and in his live shows, too; Keen and his red-hot band can command a packed and rowdy dancehall or festival crowd as easily as a hushed listening room.
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