Robert Earl Keen
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Oct. 8, 2004
Robert Earl KeenNo Kinda Dancer (Koch)
Robert Earl KeenA Bigger Piece of Sky (Koch)
Robert Earl KeenNo. 2 Dinner: Live (Koch)
This trio of reissues offers a glimpse into three very different moments in Robert Earl Keen's career. Their appearance reminds us that he wasn't always one of the best-known ambassadors of Texas music. As with most reissues these days, there are some special add-ons included. Both No Kinda Dancer and Bigger Piece of Sky have been given the SACD treatment, which means that if you have a Super Audio CD player they'll sound far superior to the way you remember them, though they'll still play on any old CD component. 1984's No Kinda Dancer was Keen's debut and is best known for "The Front Porch Song," his co-write with fellow Aggie Lyle Lovett. It's a bare-bones, mostly acoustic affair that showed his potential as a storyteller and introduced us to his clever wit. This version has been expanded to include three songs not on the original, most notably the never-before-released and oddly mysterious "The Vacuum Cleaner Song." A Bigger Piece of Sky from 1993 contains such classics as "Corpus Christi Bay," "Blow You Away," and a hard-charging cover of Terry Allen's "Amarillo Highway." Keen has taken an extremely radical approach to this reissue, resequencing it, as he says, "In the way they were meant to be heard." Some might find this a bit disorienting, but after a few spins, the new song order actually sounds better, and it remains one of Keen's best albums. The reason for the re-release of 1996's No. 2 Dinner Live is that it's out of print. A live collection that's also REK's bestselling album, Dinner features lots of fan favorites, "Five Pound Bass" and "The Road Goes on Forever" among them. It captures the moment when Keen was transformed from just another Texas singer-songwriter playing the Cactus Cafe to a performer with an electric band and a following that knows all the words to all his songs and who can't control the urge to sing them as loud as they can.