What I Really Mean (Koch)
What I Really Mean is Robert Earl Keen's 11th album. It's a rare artist who can make that much music and still keep things interesting. Keen succeeds because he never stays in one place too long. Of course he's always hovering around a sound that's vaguely country, with lyrics that are equally nebulous, yet he almost always gets the job of entertaining his audience done. With What I Really Mean, Keen paints a new picture of himself. That he succeeds is both a measure of his talent as a songwriter and Rich Brotherton's fine touch as a producer. There is a hint of Celtic flavor ("The Traveling Storm"), an odd ranchero tune ("A Border Tragedy"), some steamy gospel soul ("Long Chain"), and a roots-rockin' sing-along ("The Wild Ones"). Capping things is a near spoken-word dreamscape, "The Great Hank," as surreal and appealing as anything he's ever done. With the special appearance of Ray Price, the banjo of Danny Barnes, and the curious placement of an occasional trumpet, saxophone, and Northumbrian pipe, Keen continues to sound inspired. Even if it's not where anyone would have imagined him 11 albums down the road.
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