Robert Earl Keen
Reviewed by Christopher Gray, Fri., Oct. 19, 2001
Robert Earl KeenGravitational Forces (Lost Highway) Robert Earl Keen may be a new labelmate of Lucinda Williams, and more of a modern-day Lone Star folk hero than ever, but nowadays he'd rather be on the back 40 than the Top 40. That's what he says on Gravitational Forces' opener "My Home Ain't in the Hall of Fame," at least. Elsewhere, his eighth album is so world-weary that the cranked reading of well-worn standby "The Road Goes on Forever" is probably there just to close on a relatively sunny note. That's no easy feat with a song involving drug trafficking, double-crossing, and multiple murders, but one made understandable by the near-palpable regret of "Fallin' Out" or simmering fatalism pervading "Not a Drop of Rain." Keen does Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" like it's a deserted cantina past closing time, the jukebox his only earthly companion, then he's tossing them back with Langston Hughes' ghost in "Goin' Nowhere Blues." (Speaking of ghosts, just try and listen to the steel chorale of Townes Van Zandt's "Snowin' on Raton" without getting chills.) Helping lighten the mood somewhat are the good-hearted drifter of "Hello New Orleans," twirling two-step of Terry Allen's "High Plains Jamboree," and the palate-cleansing sinner's blues of "Walkin' Cane." Oh, and the title track. Straight out of the Chris Gaines "Star Trippin'" file, it's a Shatneresque spoken-word riff on the temporal distortion of a four-hour sound check -- lacking only a bongo-banging, beret-clad beatnik, but positively hysterical all the same.