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Robert Earl Keen dishes out meat and potatoes

House of Blues, Cambridge, Mass., Jan. 20, 2002

By Jeffrey B. Remz

CAMBRIDGE, MA - Robert Earl Keen must have wondered if he really had walked into a club a stones-throw away from Harvard University with all the hooting, hollerin' and cowboy hats present at the jammed club.

Of course, Keen was squarely in his element, thanks to a lot of Texas or Lone Star wannabes during the 100-minute show that was meat and potatoes Robert Eark Keen.

That means that not all that much has changed over the years in Keen's performances. His voice is serviceable, but certainly nothing earth shattering. His voice has a bit or a raspy quality to it with a dose of nasal tone thrown in.

And Keen is not a big talker on stage, though he is appreciative of the warm rewsponse he received. Nor does he possess a tremendous amount of charisma.

So why the enthusiasm? This probably wasn't the reason since most fans probably were well versed in Keen 101 from previous efforts, but his new album, "Gravitiational Forces," out last year, was a gem. The songs sounded more adult and with more of a harder country sound to them unlike the frat boy rock with which he has been linked.

Unfortunately, Keen only played about four songs from the album.

Keen mixed it up with songs from throughout his career ranging from two-stepping' honky tonkers to blues to rock. The Texan showed he could handle the various styles, though he excelled on the honky tonkers.

Keen, of course, opted to dish out favorites with the two most obvious being "Merry Xmas from the Family," a very funny white trash look at the holiday period which Keen did solo acoustically and the crowd sang every word of, and the regular set closer, "The Road Goes on Forever," a fine song with a lot of steam and drive behind it from Keen and his band.

Keen tours with a solid quartet, particularly lead guitartist and long-time Keen cohort Rich Brotherton.

Keen could have continued playing the frat rock style for years to come and continued to do quite well in the Lone Star State. He's huge in Texas, but it's nice to see him stretch out beyond his bread and butter.

Ken isn't the most engaging singer or best performer to come down the pike, but he also has learned that once in awhile you need to move beyond the cradle of younger days. And his case it worked.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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