Online since August 2002

Another batch of solid songs

Reviewed September 2009

The Rose Hotel
The Rose Hotel
By Robert Earl Keen

Universal: 2009

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

More country than most alt- or underground-country artists, Robert Earl Keen has carved out a sound somewhere between the mainstream accessibility of traditionalists like George Strait and Randy Travis and the more folk-informed songs of a Tom Russell or Guy Clark. He's definitely not on Nashville's radar, yet he's more country than folk, and his music is less self-aware than most alt-country – it comes off as if he's making music, not a statement. Sure, his songs tell stories, but they tend to be just that: stories. Not political parables, not life lessons. They're more like poetic observations, akin to Mark Knopfler's early Dire Straits material.

His latest disc finds him continuing his course of playing his songs in a roughly country vein, but refusing to be too constrained by the expectations of genre. "The Man Behind the Drums" is an ode to Levon Helm, drummer and one of the singers for '70s folk rockers The Band – and Keen and his band even capture the sound of Helm and his fellow bandmates. "Wireless in Heaven" is a humorous bluegrass take on technology, and "Something I Do" even has a Jimmy Buffett beach vibe to it.

Throughout his stylistic forays, though, the basic approach remains consistent: Stripped-down, basic, little gloss or polish. Just Keen's straight-forward vocals and a solid backing band. It's a recipe that's worked for twenty years, and with a nice set of new songs on "The Rose Hotel," there seems no reason to change.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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