The Austin Chronicle

ACL Fest Interviews

By Christopher Gray, September 19, 2003, Music

Robert Earl Keen

7pm, Friday, Cingular stage

Robert Earl Keen has always had a way with words. As he sings on the new "So Sorry Blues," "I've been in this rut so long now, I believe I've found my groove."

The onetime Texas A&M journalism student has indeed found his groove, so to speak. Or he has become one with his inner Deadhead. Either way, he agrees wholeheartedly when asked if his eighth and latest album, Farm Fresh Onions, due Oct. 7 on Koch/Audium, could be considered his "psychedelic" album.

"Oh yes," Keen says from his office in Bandera. "We had to hold up the cover art until I could find someone who'd actually done LSD."

Produced by Keen's longtime guitarist Rich Brotherton, Onions grew out of the informal vibe sown by the 47-year-old in the studio; his only guiding purpose behind this batch of songs was "to just go in and have fun." Not that Keen's less tie-dyed fans won't find reams of the erudite, probing wordplay that's made him one of the most influential Lone Star singer-songwriters of the past two decades.

Still, the fuzzy guitars of "Beat the Devil" and far-out organ fills of the title track carry that unmistakable whiff of the Sixties; "Floppy Shoes" bounces along its lackadaisical course like a VW bus on its way to the Monterey Pop Festival.

All of which make it surprising to learn that Keen wasn't especially tuned into the sounds of Texas psych legends the 13th Floor Elevators while growing up in Houston.

"I met the guy who was their lawyer once, though," he muses.

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