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Robert Earl Keen

Among the large contingent of talented songwriters who emerged in Texas in the 1980s and '90s, Robert Earl Keen struck an unusual balance between sensitive story-portraits ("Corpus Christi Bay") and raucous barroom fun ("That Buckin' Song"). These two song types in Keen's output were unified by a mordant sense of humor that strongly influenced the early practitioners of what would become known as alternative country music. Keen, the son of an oil executive father and an attorney mother, was a native of Houston. His parents enjoyed both folk and country music, and his own style would land, like that of his close contemporary Nanci Griffith, between those genres. Keen wrote poetry while he was in high school, but it wasn't until he went to journalism school at musically fertile Texas A&M that he learned to play the guitar. He and Lyle Lovett became friends and co-wrote a song, "This Old Porch," which both later recorded.

Keen made a splash in Austin with his debut album, No Kinda Dancer, self-financed in 1984 to the tune of $4,500. He moved to Nashville during the heady experimentalism of the '80s that saw Lovett and k.d. lang hit the country Top Ten, but he soon returned to Austin. Texas landscapes and residents provided Keen with creative inspiration, as his second album, West Textures, made clear; that album yielded one of Keen's signature numbers, an ambitious crime-spree song called "The Road Goes on Forever." Now recording for Sugar Hill, Keen recorded a live album shortly after West Textures but waited several years to release a studio follow-up, 1993's A Bigger Piece of Sky. After that album (which contained "Corpus Christi Bay") came Gringo Honeymoon (1994), which merged Keen's story-songs with the emerging sounds of alt-country: guitars were laid down by the influential Austin musician Gurf Morlix, who later produced albums for both Keen and Lucinda Williams, and a young Gillian Welch provided harmony vocals.

Once again, after taking his career to a new stage, Keen recorded a live album (No. 2 Live Dinner, 1996) and took time to accumulate new material. The 1997 album Picnic, his first for the Arista Texas label, again moved in the direction of alternative country, featuring Keen in a duet with the Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins, while 1998's Walking Distance featured sparer textures. Whatever production style surrounded his songs, Keen's musical personality seemed consistent, and his live shows, widely known thanks to a touring schedule that often approached 200 dates a year in the '90s, grew organically in depth and control. In the early 2000s, Keen signed with the Lost Highway label and released the album Gravitational Forces (2001). He also devoted time to his influential annual concert series and talent festival, Texas Uprising, which took place at several venues around Texas and the Far West.

The year 2003 saw the release of his eighth studio album, the amiable Farm Fresh Onions, as well as The Party Never Ends: Songs You Know from the Times You Can't Remember, a compilation of Keen's Sugar Hill days. His next release was 2005's What I Really Mean for the Koch label. It was followed in 2006 by Live at the Ryman. Rose Hotel, his first recording with famed producer Lloyd Maines, appeared in 2009 on Lost Highway. Keen decided to experiment for his next album, and began writing on the road instead of in his small, solitary cabin in the hinterlands of Texas. Once again recruiting Maines as producer, he cut 11 new songs -- among them nine originals including a re-recording of "Paint the Town Beige" from 1993's Bigger Piece of Sky -- and a couple of covers. It was released as Ready for Confetti on Lost Highway in the summer of 2011. Three years later, Keen and Maines made their way back to the studio with a band of first-rate acoustic pickers (including Danny Barnes of the Bad Livers) and some high-profile duet partners (Lyle Lovett and Natalie Maines) to record a collection of classic bluegrass covers; the album, Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions, was released by Dualtone in February 2015. ~ James Manheim, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Footprints In The Snow (Single)

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Track List: Hot Corn, Cold Corn (Single)

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Track List: T For Texas (Single)

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Track List: Wayfaring Stranger (Single)

Comments

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What I really mean....don' t go on trips without it.
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Where has he been all my life he is awesome
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This guy is awesome...
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Funny how ALL the GREAT ones come from Texas.
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cool
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nicko252008
Gurf Morlix played guitar on the gringo honeymoon album, did not know that. AWESOME!
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Didn't know u were a aggie
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lvburnett
Thank you Robert for putting Levelland,Te x a s on the map,because it is blowing away as we speak,Still GOD BLESS South Plains College! It has brought a bit of talent through the South Plains of Texas...Grea t Stuff People....
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No one mentions Mariano, a lovely, haunting soulful story song.
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I'm a simple minded guy with simple pleasures. I get lost in the story telling and feel meloncolley.
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I'm coming home to you. Good song/ \
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Damn, what about Merry Xmas from the Family - an all time classic!
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embrybyrd
BIGBYRD62
REK one of the greastest storytellers . A lyrical genius.Willy , Armadillo jackal, some kind if dancer.. thank you sir!!!
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Hi
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Very enjoyable. Onward Ty. Lt
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♪♫♪♥*•♫♪♥*•♫ ♪ ♥ * • ♫ ♪ ♥
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nicko252008
Ahh, songs I know from the album I couldn't remember! LOL!
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nicko, it's The Party Never Ends (Songs You Know From the Times You Can't Remember.
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nicko252008
What's the album with the cactus on the cover? It's missing!!
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MR kEEN MR KEEN I'm FEELING GOOD AGAIN MYSELF ONE MORE BUD FOR RIDE :)
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THANK U FOR THE BESTED DAMM BBQ,BEER
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Reminds me of my young life in Presido, Tx. What a hoot!
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michaelsauto
No mention of any of his great band members. The fiddle player who is as REK used to say, my best friend since the forth grade or the great guitar man, Rich Brotherton.
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Gotta love at least one of his songs, seen em twice concert drove threw a park on the sidewalk just to see REK and we were all sober, great entertainer thx REK!
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John Boat and a five pound Bass..... nothing better....
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Honestly, this guy can write songs but he's not that good of a singer. IMO, undone, Mariano, shades of grey and Lynville train are his best and they were covered by excellent artists. Especially Mariano and undone were exceptionall y well done
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I can handle this its like Uncle Kracker after a few more beers.
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txgoatgirl
Robert Earl is an amazing Guy! Im bestfriends with his daughter!
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Yeah, who wrote out here in the middle? was that Mc murtry or REK?

McMurtry.
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nicko252008
also..train song is a todd snider cover, I actually like REK's version better.
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nicko252008
Yeah, who wrote out here in the middle? was that Mc murtry or REK?
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mpeeples46
I love RE Keen, but he did not write Levelland. That was writen by James McMurtry, another in a long line of great Texas songwriters. Music is the best thing about Texas.
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Johnny Rodriguez did a excellent version of this as well.
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For a trust fund kid that guy has had a hell of a life, or a love lost that I can relate to, you can't make stuff like that up....
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nicko252008
Saw him last night in san diego, Robert and his band were excellent. Great performance. THanks Robert!!
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great song
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well, I scanned the bio but did not see anything about Merry Xmas from the family... I love that song. love to play it on my guitar...
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good stuff....lik e chris knight too great lyrics
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nicko252008
He is going to tour america, GOT MY TICKETS!
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edisto7
Sometimes the weight of loss is almost too much. I miss you Allen.
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I was fortunate enough to see REK ,Lyle Lovette and Steve Earl at the Moody in Austin. Best $25.00 I ever spent. That's why I live in Austin.
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finance381
Fix your info Pandora!!! This song was written by Dave Alvin and originally done by X on the album See How We Are and IMO, a much better version than this.
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I never could cut the mustard, so I settled for the cheese.
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nicko252008
COME TO SAN DIEGO ROBERT!!!
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war eagle supperclub in Auburn Al. needs some REK
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You don't love REK you don"t love music.
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losrougiers
I've never been a huge fan of his voice, but the songwriting more than makes up for it for me. As such, I tend to like his songs better when covered by others with better voices (e.g., Shawn Colvin). However, Merry Christmas From the Family could not work if done by anyone else but REK. That's a classic.
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mebbri
If I had the money he would play at my 65th in a giant hall!
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dtr22
A friend of mine told me about Robert, he passed away of ALS remind me of him. Here is to Dancing Lance.
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nicko252008
This guy rocks.
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