Legendary singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen recently completed his 11th album project in a Burbank studio with Grammy Award-winning engineer Ed Cherney (Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy). Set for release May 10, 2005, What I Really Mean features special guests Ray Price (vocals), Danny Barnes (banjo) and is sprinkled with a few unique touches (including Gospel singers and Mariachi players).
Win It Before You Can Buy It! As was the case with REK’s critically acclaimed 2003 Koch Records debut, Farm Fresh Onions, the new project was recorded with his road band, enhancing the listening experience and capturing the excitement of a live performance. Rich Brotherton, who has been REK’s lead guitarist for several years, produced the record, marking his second production effort for REK. Brotherton has been listed among the 100 best guitar players in America by several publications and has worked with Shawn Colvin, Toni Price, Ronnie Lane and Eliza Gilkyson, to name a few.
Keen has inspired much praise from music critics over the years. Rolling Stone wrote of Farm Fresh Onions: ‘Keen takes a page from Lucinda Williams, backing up his unassuming, dusky tunes with punchy guitars and well-manicured country-rock grooves’ Billboard added: ‘Keen has delivered one of the best records of his career.’ Performing Songwriter called it ‘A compelling collection of songs stamped with Keen’s trademark mix of lyricism, breezy humor and intelligence.’ And No Depression observed: ‘A very funny, clever and ambitious writer…Keen sounds here like an artist renewed.’ Keen has also been a stalwart presence on late-night television and NPR.
Cherney, who mixed the recording, has distinguished himself as a recording and mixing engineer as well as a producer. His R&B roots in Chicago served as a solid foundation for his later work with such rock and pop artists as Bob Dylan, the B-52’s and Roy Orbison. He received a Grammy for Engineer of the Year for Bonnie Raitt’s Longing In Their Hearts.
The first single, the title track ‘What I Really Mean,’ will ship to radio on March 23.
“Farm Fresh Onions turned out so great that Rich and I immediately decided to make another record,” Keen says. “The first person we called was Ed Cherney. He’s the MVP. We like Ed’s version of our vision.”
Robert Earl Keen : What I Really Mean track listing:
1. For Love (4:23)
2. Mr. Wolf and Mamabear (3:44)
3. What I Really Mean (3:45)
4. The Great Hank (4:51)
5. The Wild Ones (4:26)
6. Long Chain (5:31)
7. Broken End of Love (3:24)
8. The Dark Side of the World (4:52)
9. The Traveling Storm (4:26)
10. A Border Tragedy (4:10)
11. Ride (3:43)
Amazon.com Editorial Review:
Few songwriters are as cinematic as Robert Earl Keen. In the tradition of Keen’s classic “The Road Goes on Forever” and “Merry Christmas from the Family,” his eleventh album finds the Texas troubadour transforming indelible characters, vivid description, and narrative drive into movies for the ear. He delves into the surreal with “The Great Hank,” a spoken-word barroom vignette that features Hank Williams in a time warp (and in drag).
He turns a fable about animals into a tale as dark and twisted as film noir in “Mr. Wolf and Mama Bear,” and enlists a vocal cameo from Ray Price and a serenade from Mariachi Estrella to provide the soundtrack for the droll story of cantina overindulgence in “A Border Tragedy.” Even the tender title song, about the touring musician missing his wife, shows his eye for evocative detail, with one of Keen’s warmest vocals to date.
Produced by his bandleader/guitarist Rich Brotherton, the album’s musically expansive arrangements match the ambition of the storytelling, with guest banjo from the Bad Livers ‘ Danny Barnes, a lovely soprano sax by John Mills on the title cut, and Celtic pipes from E.J. Jones on “The Traveling Storm.” Keen may well expand his audience along with his musical range, as the uptempo “The Wild Ones” could pass as a John Hiatt cut, while “Broken End of Love”
has an echo of Tom Petty. –Don McLeese
Hydrid Magazine Review:
It has finally happened. As college roommates, Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen would sit on the porch writing songs and playing songs and, I’m certain, drinking some Lonestars. The careers of the two friends have always run roughly parallel in a lot of ways, but Keen always seemed just a touch behind Lovett. I’m happy to report that REK has stepped it up on his new record, and has not only matched Lovett, but finally and clearly surpassed him. Keen is ahead in my imaginary race!
The songs on What I Really Mean are far from the beer drinking anthems of “The Road Goes On Forever”, thankfully, and show real growth in the songwriting prowess of REK, a progress that was evidently on its way on his last outing Farm Fresh Onions. “For Love” kicks the album off in high, twangy guitar style, melding country and rock in that way that only REK can. Rich Brotherton supplies some amazing lead lines, and the steel guitars lift the song into country music nirvana. The mandolins come out on “Mr. Wolf and Mamabear” to accompany an intricate and clever story about an animal town. Not really the kind of song you’d play for a child, but an interesting way to tell a story. The title track is filled with empathy and longing. It is a beautiful song, possibly one of Keen’s finest and most heartfelt songs ever. I could do without the soprano saxophone, but the strength of the song makes even that bearable. Honky tonk was never more alive than in the story of “The Great Hank” – A hazy downbeat country tune that accompanies a story that could only spring forth from the mind of Keen. Breaking out more of the folky-bluegrass sound on “Long Chain”, Keen tells the kind of dark story that makes truly great country music stand out from the crowd.
“The Travelling Storm” features Northumbrian small pipes that create an amazing mood of the old country, and accompany a tale that would be right on par with the classic “Whiskey In The Jar”. It is a moody tale of betrayal and adventure, filled with some of Keen’s finest poetry: “Pity not the weary traveler/ he lives in his mind/ he is friend of wind and weather/ and from fire is born/ Pity then the cool betrayer/ waiting patiently/ no precaution made will save him/ from the traveling storm.” The dark mood continues unabated on “A Border Tragedy”, but the song is filled with drunken Mariachi trumpets that attempt to lighten the mood. Thrown in for good measure and to fulfill the mood are a verse of “The Streets Of Laredo” and a Mexican chorus. Rolling the album up with some fine fingerpicking and a leaving story is the beautiful, light sounding “Ride”.
The stories on What I Really Mean make the meat of the record, and are what set REK ahead of LL. But the
musicianship is without equal, and there is more country here than you are likely to hear in the near future. If you are looking for the party songs that Keen has written in the past, you won’t find them here. What you will find is a collection of songs filled with emotion, depth, strength, and unique character. This is what makes music worth hearing. -Embo Blake
source: KOCH Records
updated April 25, 2005
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