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Robert Earl Keen

Picnic – 1997 (Arista Austin)

Reviewed by George Hauenstein

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CDs by Robert Earl Keen

Robert Earl Keen has been one of the bright lights on the alt.country circuit for some time. He writes and sings of lovers, losers, life on the road. His songs are often touching but also offer a unique, sometimes tongue-in-cheek perspective. His work has been covered by Nanci Griffith, The Highwaymen and Joe Ely.

On his first major label release, fans will find this a very pleasing album, although it has a harder edge than his previous work. Keen's calling card has been his songwriting, and it's true to form here. Favorites include the lonely, "Oh Rosie," "Undone," "I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight," "Then Came Lo Mein," featuring vocal help from Cowboy Junkies's Margot Timmins and James McMurtry's "Levelland."

Keen's cover of Dave Alvin's "Fourth of July" doesn't work quite so well, but is the only sub-par cut. Keen is a troubadour, cut from the same mold as fellow-Texas songwriting legends, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Butch Hancock. This album is a fine showcase of his immense talents.