Robert Earl Keen

No. 2 Live Dinner – 1996 (Sugar Hill)

Reviewed by Roy Kasten

Robert Earl Keen's second live album is quite a departure from the first. Rather than relying on boyish charm and storytelling, Keen fronts a veteran group of Texas companeros, who move from sunny Western Swing to stormy outlaw to clement balladry. There's still plenty of narrative: a fond and funny reminiscence of Willie Nelson's second picnic is the perfect into to "The Road Goes On Forever"; and in the CD's finest moment, Keen's contrasts life in Nashville with Austin, turning "Mariano" into a loving nostalgia for Texas culture. The set focuses on material from "Gringo Honeymoon" and "West Textures," and one might wish for a new song or a more surprising cover - a notable absence is his haunting, a capella version of Townes Van Zandt's "Snowin' On Raton." But when he sings "Some are gone for good, some are still livin' here" in "Dreadful Selfish Crime," you can hear his love for his fellow musicians and the road-earned wisdom in his voice. That's reason enough to seek this out.