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Robert Earl Keen

Live From Austin TX – 2004 (New West)

Reviewed by Brad San Martin

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CDs by Robert Earl Keen

In celebration of their 30th broadcast season, venerable television program Austin City Limits has inaugurated a series of concert CDs and DVDs drawn from their enviable archives. Theirs is a legacy well worth celebrating, having introduced countless PBS viewers to an endless array of eclectic roots-music artists.

Robert Earl Keen (the Jr. tag seems to come and go) is an ideal choice for the series. Keen is defiantly Texan, an immensely gifted songwriter, and a performer who has paid his dues in endless beer joints, V.F.W. halls and other sub-optimal venues.

He also has two exemplary live albums to his credit already, leading one to believe that this was conceived more as a celebration of Austin City Limits than of Keen's career. For instance, it's hard to imagine that Keen would let this version of his great "Blow You Away" - where he awkwardly flubs a lyric - be released under any other circumstances. Equally noticeable is the absence of the stories and reminiscences, a strong part in many Keen concerts.

What's left is a perfectly adequate live recording, with little of the charisma of "The Live Album" (1988) or "No. 2 Live Dinner" (1996). Perhaps the constraints of broadcast left him unable to do much other than play one song, than another, until his time was up. There's plenty of great tunes here, but the workmanlike performances and rushed feeling (has "The Road Goes On Forever" ever been played so fast?) leave it a distant third to Keen's other available concert discs.