Thirty years ago, Robert Earl Keen won the New Folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Yes, he’s been at it that long. Nevertheless, he claims 2013 was one of the best years he’s had in a very long time. From selling out a run of 17 shows in the Northeast to sharing the stage with his old Aggie friend Lyle Lovett for their first-ever series of acoustic performances, his plate overflowed.
“It was the first years in a dozen that we turned stuff down,” he claims. “My schedule was just too full. One of my goals at the beginning of the year was to make a record. I’ve started to make a record, so I’m batting .500 with that.”
It won’t be just another Robert Earl album, either. He’s exploring his love of bluegrass and recording songs from the likes of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs as backed by Rich Brotherton, Bill Whitbeck, and Marty Muse from his band, and guest hot- shots Danny Barnes, the Greencards’ Kym Warner, and Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek.
“We’ve tracked 26 songs so far, and I don’t think we’re even finished,” admits Keen. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and thought I’d better do it now. It’ll probably be out in May.
“Admittedly, I’m not a quote/unquote bluegrass singer, so I want things to sound good. I don’t want it to sound like I’m straining to sound like Monroe or the Stanley Brothers. I could sit down and make up some fake bluegrass songs, but I just thought it would sound really contrived.
“I want to make the songs sound like how bluegrass sounds to me.”
And just so you know, this project didn’t spring from any sort of writer’s block.
“Oh no. I write all the time. I’m just trying to do something different.”– Jim Caligiuri
When did these Cali kickers move to ATX?
Your favorite grocery offers up quite a choice of free Christmas tunes. Fans of trad country and bluegrass done up with pretty harmonies should head north for the Carper Family, whose latest Old-Fashioned Gal melds middle-20th century sounds with 21st century sentiment to conjure the local trio’s spirit of Christmas past. Southbound, Akina Adderley jingles her youthful rock & soul as fueled by the horns from her Vintage Playboys, goodies both gritty and sweet.– Jim Caligiuri
The departure of founding frontman Tim Smith halted production of the Midlake’s fourth LP, yet the newly released Antiphon (ATO) reboots the Denton sextet with more power as guitarist Eric Pulido takes over the lead role. A stronger, psych-driven interplay now grounds the band’s pristine prog-folk as version 2.0 regroups into more aggressive directions.– Doug Freeman
The Bremen Riot – local singer/songwriter Mike Nicolai fronting bar rockers Grand Champeen – didn’t so much release its recent debut PM Magazine as simply open the door and hope it wandered out on its own. Yet it’s one of the best rock discs from Austin this year, so this rare gig, with the Decade Show before and Militant Babies after, is a must. The next night rocks just as hard, thanks to the Beefheartian blues of Churchwood, whose own 2013 LP 2 proves the genius of its eponymous debut was no fluke. The Blitzens, Chablis, and Ron Titter Band open.– Michael Toland