Happy Prisoner Record Review

<i>Happy Prisoner</i> Record Review

Robert Earl Keen

Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions (Dualtone)

Crossover albums often become specious affairs. Remember Willie Nelson's reggae effort, Countryman? So when Robert Earl Keen, a West Texas Dylan, steps into the pickin' circle, he risks desecrating the American songbook. Instead, on Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions, he finds glory. Nailing bluegrass mega-standards "Footprints in the Snow," originally tracked by Ernest Branch & the West Virginia Ramblers, and Dillards staple "Old Home Place" with the pace and sincerity that mountain music requires, he and his decades-together crew then fish from a different pond with an inspiring cover of Brit folkie Richard Thompson's "52 Vincent Black Lightning," previously bluegrassified by Del McCoury. Old and in the Way-er Peter Rowan colorizes his Bill Monroe cowrite "Walls of Time" by dishing on its genesis with a spoken intro before Keen tries his husky voice at the high, lonesome melody. Keen's accomplishment of a legit bluegrass collection can be attributed less to his knowledge of the genre and more to his ability to feel it. Hillbilly music remains a team sport and the Texan chops alongside excellent pickers including Nickel Creek fiddler Sara Watkins, sprightly local mandolinist Kym Warner, and former Austin banjo maestro Danny Barnes. Additional help comes from college buddy Lyle Lovett on go-to yodel tune "T for Texas" and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, whose father Lloyd produces, singing on eternal minor dirge "Wayfaring Stranger." Unlike Dee Dee Ramone's rap travesty, REK's Happy Prisoner takes none in conquering new (old) realms.

****

The 2021-2022 Austin Music Awards Music Poll is underway. Vote now for your favorite bands, venues, and music until January 31.

  • More of the Story

  • Robert Earl Keen

    Inside REK's inner sanctum, the "Scriptorium"

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Robert Earl Keen
Texas Platters
Robert Earl Keen
Live Dinner Reunion (Record Review)

Doug Freeman, Dec. 23, 2016

Texas Platters
Robert Earl Keen
Live Dinner Reunion (Record Review)

Doug Freeman, Dec. 2, 2016

More by Kevin Curtin
What We're Listening to Right Now
What We're Listening to Right Now
Nakia, Sun June, Norman BA$E, Good Looks, 8½ Souvenirs, and more local sounds worth seeking out

Jan. 28, 2022

La Doña, Wet Leg, Wolf Eyes, and Chris Patrick Added to SXSW’s 2022 Music Ranks
La Doña, Wet Leg, Wolf Eyes, and Chris Patrick Added to SXSW’s 2022 Music Ranks
… along with 302 other acts from around the world

Jan. 26, 2022

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Robert Earl Keen

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle