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Robert Earl Keen's road goes on

Royale, Boston, January 22, 2012

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Robert Earl Keen appeared in good spirits, and the crowd sure was, which the Texas singer/songwriter readily acknowledged with a "congratulations" to them for the big, exciting win by the New England Patriots to launch them into the Super Bowl.

Fortunately, Keen did not pander and make like he was a Pats fan all of a sudden. He dispensed with the niceties and demonstrated why hundreds showed up - this guy has a bunch of sturdy songs with an excellent band to match.

Keen hit the floor running with such songs as the bluesy/slightly swampy lead=off song from his new disc Who Do Man, Feelin' Good Again, Gringo Honeymoon and the bouncy new country cut I Gotta Go.

Keen's voice has never been a true work of beauty. He sings with a nasal sound, and on more than one occasion, the vocals got a bit lost in the music. But he sure can paint pictures with his songs, such as one his best known songs Merry Christmas from the Family (Yes, it's still okay to play it a few weeks after the holiday).

One constant about Keen is his great band. The ever dependable and reliable Rich Brotherton stood out on guitar (both acoustic and electric) and mandolin. Marty Muse was an ace on pedal steel. And the rhythm section of drummer Tom Van Schalk and Bill Whitbeck were up to the task as well.

These guys have been with Keen for a long time. Muse is the rookie, having joined about 10 years ago. No wonder, they work so well together without sounding like they were going through the numbers.

The roles of Brotherton and Muse were huge in ensuring that the songs came alive whether new or tried and true. That was apparent in going from the brand new The Road Goes On and On straight into what in a previous tour would have the end of the evening, The Road Goes On Forever. The latter is simply a staple of a Keen concert, and it did not sound worn either vocally or especially musically.

Keen played songs from varying points in his career, but it's too bad that he didn't play even more than the four from "Ready for Confetti." It's one strong album, and he should have pushed it even more. Based on the enthusiasm of the crowd, there was no doubt they would have gone along for the ride.

About the best thing that may be said about the show was that it seemed awfully quick, but at 100 minutes, Keen also could not be accused of checking his watch. Keen showed he is ready to continue making quality music. Yes, indeed. Keen's road does go on and on.