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Robert Earl Keen

Gravitational Forces – 2001 (Lost Highway)

Reviewed by Michael Berick

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CDs by Robert Earl Keen

Robert Earl Keen's ninth album may disappoint his frat boy followers who whoop it up for his outlaw epics (like "Road Goes On Forever") and humorous redneck odes (like "Merry Christmas From The Family"), but fans who appreciate his many other songwriting gifts will be quite pleased. While "Gravitational Forces" might lack some of the earlier albums' rowdiness, it stands as his most consistently mature record.

Keen demonstrates his sharp songwriting eye on dusty small-town tales like "Wild Wind" and "Goin' Nowhere Blues." The ache-filled ballad "Not A Drop Of Rain" ranks among his finest efforts as it heartbreakingly describes a love that has run as dry as the weather. Interestingly, Keen wrote barely half of the tunes here; however, his renditions of songs like Townes Van Zandt's "Snowin' On Raton," Terry Allen's "High Plains Jamboree" and Johnny Cash's "I Miss Somebody" mesh well with the disc's slightly sad and wistful tone. Even the rather rambunctious version of "Walkin' Cane," led by Rich Brotherton's slide work and Gurf Morlix's (who co-produced with Keen) mandolin, is more backporch than roadhouse. A forceful piece, Keen's label debut shows him striving more for emotional punch than punchlines.