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Live and Die by Shades of Grey
August 21, 2011 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Robert Earl Keen is a country songwriter and storyteller, with an unusually good guitarist named Rich Brotherton.

Possibly best known for his song The Road Goes On Forever. (Also, as covered by Joe Ely)
posted by Devils Rancher (36 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would have thought he is best known for Blow You Away and Merry Christmas from the Family.
posted by localroger at 1:37 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of Mr. Darling's absolute favorites. I'm partial to "Merry Christmas from the Family."
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:39 PM on August 21, 2011


I love this style of music, but the guy's voice is a bit strained and nasally for me... he needs a few decades of whisky and cigarettes to mellow it out. Great songs, though.
posted by Huck500 at 1:39 PM on August 21, 2011


unusually good guitarist

That, or a middling banjo player playing a guitar.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:43 PM on August 21, 2011


I love this style of music, but the guy's voice is a bit strained and nasally for me

I generally agree, but he's great with Shawn Colvin singing backup on James McMurtry's Out Here in the Middle

(Shawn makes everyone sound great,though)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:22 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Feelin' Good Again
posted by Roach at 2:29 PM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've had some incredible musical experiences at Anderson Fair Retail Restaurant in Houston. I've been served champagne by Nancy Griffith during an Lyle Lovett New Year's eve show, seen Dave Van Ronk before he passed away, countless nights watching Townes Van Zandt. Right up there is a show by Robert Earl Keen. He came back on stage for an encore and there were just about 5 or 6 of us left in the place. He sat on the edge of the stage and we gathered around and he just sat and played for us. Magical. I'm a Robert Earl too and I have an LP signed by him "From Robert Earl to Robert Earl, great name".
posted by Grumpy old geek at 2:31 PM on August 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I saw him a couple of years ago at ACL. He's not quite doing my style of music, but I enjoyed his show a lot and would gladly see him again.
posted by immlass at 2:45 PM on August 21, 2011


Yes!

I was introduced to him by the song "(Hey Baby) It's the Fourth of July"

That song is incredibly powerful to me.

Another great one that comes to mind (in addition to "Blow You Away" and "Merry Christmas from the Family" is "Shades of Gray"
posted by mmrtnt at 4:33 PM on August 21, 2011


Where did I put that close parenthesis?
posted by mmrtnt at 4:34 PM on August 21, 2011


His voice seemed weak to me at first too, and it's generally not my favorite style of music either, but the quality of the lyrics and the musicianship transcends both of those things for me.

My favorite line:
They been kicked out of high school several years ago
For pushin over port-a-cans at the 4-H rodeo


How can you not love that?

The first time I saw him, about 15 years ago, he closed the set by having the sound man kill the PA so that they could do one song completely unamplified. He had to ask the crowd to be extra-quiet, but it really was a magical moment.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:37 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay.

The title of the post... Right.

I think I need to step away from the keyboard for a while.
posted by mmrtnt at 4:38 PM on August 21, 2011


Feelin' Good Again

Again, Brotherton just smokes on that one. Listen to it on headphones -- he plays it twice, it two different registers, panned left and right. You really should see it live, someday. It's a sight to behold.

The title of the post... Right.

The ACL version (2nd link of the post) what the crux of the biscuit, here. It's faster & more energetic than the studio version, and Brotherton's bits just blow my little mind.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:43 PM on August 21, 2011


Feelin' Good Again

Oops. really, I should have put this in the main post -- Here's a somewhat less-compressed version.

Done modding my thread, now. :-)
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:44 PM on August 21, 2011


Dreadful Selfish Crime!
posted by storybored at 5:44 PM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


"(Hey Baby) It's the Fourth of July"

Then you might like Dave Alvin, who wrote it.
posted by donpardo at 5:49 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


On of my favorites of his is Corpus Christi Bay A fun live version also available here.
posted by pappy at 6:34 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Corpus Christi Bay is one of my favorites, too! But then, I grew up there. Oh, and Dreadful Selfish Crime is a nice one when I'm feeling shitty. LOVE love LOVE Shades of Grey!

Ok, yeah, I'm kinda a BIG Robert Earl Keen fan...
posted by MuChao at 6:51 PM on August 21, 2011


Glad to see REK is getting some love on here. Hearing him play "The Road Goes On Forever" solo at The Green Parrot Bar in Key West was one of my favorite live music experiences ever.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned "Copenhagen".
posted by 6and12 at 7:09 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite Brotherton work is on "Death of Tail Fitzsimmons," an instrumental on the album No Kinda Dancer. It's very much more like an Old Time / Bluegrass thing than what Robert Earl Keen normally shows.

When my group of old college friends get together and end up drinking we always end up with the guitars out and singing, among others, Robert Earl Keen songs. Top two for me are Keen's versions of Kevin Farrell's Sonora's Death Row and Steve Earl's Tom Ames' Prayer. Sadly, those songs have a lot of lyrics. Anyone who has done drunk singing can sympathize with me here.
posted by introp at 7:18 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't like to be snarky, most of the time, but country music does it to me.

Tom T Hall did everything he does well a whole lot better!!

Everything he does badly was done both better and worse by Lyle

(or maybe i'm just gettin' too old, but it shure do seem like that to me. And, yeah, the 70s were the last time they made country music.)
posted by Webnym at 7:19 PM on August 21, 2011


Thanks for this! I've always liked what I've heard of his stuff on KGSR (*sigh* how I miss having easy access to KGSR) but I never really dug deeper.
posted by kmz at 7:32 PM on August 21, 2011


I have only been able to see REK play live once (so far). It was at SXSW in 2000. My band played a little showcase and we spent the rest of the festival running around getting drunk and seeing bands that didn't ever come through Iowa. My drummer and I went and saw Los Lobos while the rest of the band and a bunch of our friends who came down to watch and support us went to go see Steve Earle. We agreed to meet up at the Robert Earl Keen show later that evening.

I don't know how the heck we ended up finding each other in the sea of UT fratboys that were cramming the venue, but Matt (the drummer) and I squeezed our way through the crowd and stood next to our friends.

There was this girl who'd come down with her friends to see us. I'd met her a bunch of times and we'd hung out and though we were both seeing other people at the time, there was a real thing between us. Everyone knew it. She was at the show with her friends. I didn't know much about REK, but if this girl was gonna be there, then so was I.

I made eye contact with her during "Think it Over One Time." I held her hand during "Feelin' Good Again." We danced like crazy to "The Road Goes on Forever."

I ended up marrying her and living happily ever after.

(Also, I've gotten in bar fights with people who disagree with me that "No. 2 Live Dinner" isn't in the top 5 live country albums of all time. I can be fighty like that.)
posted by elmer benson at 7:42 PM on August 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


> Then you might like Dave Alvin, who wrote it.

After an exhaustive search a couple years ago, in which I discovered the Dave Alvin original version, I came to the conclusion that I like Keen's better.

Dave Alvin is great, don't get me wrong, but Keen really nails that song - for me, of course.
posted by mmrtnt at 7:48 PM on August 21, 2011


I don't wear no Stetson
But I'm willin' to bet son
That I'm as big a Texan as you are

There's a girl in her bare feet
Asleep on the back seat
And the trunk's full of Pearl beer and Lone Star

Amarillo Highway
posted by mmrtnt at 7:52 PM on August 21, 2011


REK on wait wait don't tell me where he recounts once playing a show at a garage sale and proudly tells the story about being inspired by his wife using a deer rifle to shoot at cats while in her underwear.

Also, a great interview with him can be found on the 'our kind of music' blog.
posted by pappy at 7:59 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Webnym - He and Lyle were college roommates.

I fucking love Robert Earl Keen. I mostly do not share this love with anyone except my dad. He and I listen to either REK or Giants games whenever we drive long distances.

I don't live in a part of the world where country music is commonly listened to or loved, so I don't get to share this sort of thing with most people.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:02 PM on August 21, 2011


I love REK. "Feeling Good Again" is probably one of my all-time favorite songs. "I'm Coming Home" is also a favorite and I haven't seen it mentioned here yet.
posted by whatideserve at 9:29 PM on August 21, 2011


Hello Austin circa 1997 I miss you lots.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:01 PM on August 21, 2011


Front Porch Song: This old porch is a big ol' red and white Herford bull / Standin' under a mesquite tree in Agua Dulce, Texas... I love the stories from approx 3:25-4:45.
posted by salvia at 10:38 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't live in a part of the world where country music is commonly listened to or loved, so I don't get to share this sort of thing with most people.

Dude. I am so dragging you out to see REK at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this year.

(One of my favorite concert memories is seeing him at SXSW in 2001, after an awesome set by Ryan Adams and the Pink Hearts, playing this.)
posted by asterix at 10:45 PM on August 21, 2011


I've seen Robert Earl Keen a number of times, absolutely will only see him acoustic, without the band, not because the band isn't great but rather that when he's got the band all the Texas frat-rat crowd tends to show up in a huge way and he does play to them, or so it seems to me, from live recordings I've heard and also from Texas frat-rat mopes that have told me about shows they've been to.

Nothing wrong with that, and it's great Friday night in the pickup music of course, but there is so much more to him than that; he's such a great writer and such a great performer, I'd hate to see a show where he's a juke for drinking songs, where he's pigeon-holed into that piece. And, again, I've heard that on plenty of live recordings. Or so it seems to me.

Times I've seen him, he seems a real warm person, he's got such a great presence, kind and smart and kind of smirky, a sly wink sort of guy; he's fun. Someone upthread didn't like his voice, that's why they make different kinds of hats -- we all get to choose what we like. Myself, I really like his voice; like his presence, his voice is warm, comforting to me. Just listened to Corpus Christi Bay, first time in a long time -- a pleasure.

I don't know much about Brotherton except he's spectacular, seen him play lots at Toni Price's Hippie Hour at The Continental Club; Toni always gets the best sidemen, who wouldn't want to play with her at that venue?

mmrtnt: "I don't wear no Stetson
But I'm willin' to bet son
That I'm as big a Texan as you are

There's a girl in her bare feet
Asleep on the back seat
And the trunk's full of Pearl beer and Lone Star

Amarillo Highway
"

That song is written by Terry Allen, kicks off one of my all-time fave Texas record (damn sure my absolute favorite country record ever) Lubbock On Everything. I've seen him perform but just a few times, got to meet him once -- it was to me like an audience with god. Lloyd Maines plays with him, and can do things on a steel guitar that probably can't be done and I love to hear him do them. It's a great show. He's not a kid, I hope I get to see him perform again.

I hope I get to see Willie perform again -- it will be a day of national mourning in Texas when he takes off. He's so taken for granted, he's like the sun, sortof omnipresent, but when the sun burns out everyone is going to feel it. (His record Red Headed Stranger another of my all-time fave Texas records and is second favorite country music record, after Lubbock On Everything.)

Grumpy old geek: "I've had some incredible musical experiences at Anderson Fair Retail Restaurant in Houston.""

A pleasure to read of your experiences there. Anderson Fair was one of my hangs the last five years I was in Houston, such a great listening room -- all about the music, as good as a house concert. The Mucky Duck brought (I'm assuming still brings) great talent but lots of noise there for lyric-driven folk music. I did get to see Champ Hood play there one night, had only seen pictures of him, and he was such a good looking guy that I had him (in my dim, lame mind) I had him down as a player, Mr. Lance Romance, I was pretty much set not to like him. Turns out he was one of the sweetest people on the planet, seemed from my seat in the house anyways, and then saw him plenty after moving to Austin -- super cool guy, one of these people who seem to walk through life without much if any interference from ego.

Anyways, you bringing it up (Anderson Fair), I sent our friend google to find out if they are open just now, and who is coming into town, etc and etc. I've been wanting sortof maybe even needing a run to Houston, I want to check out that hostel right down by the Fine Arts Museum, and I want to spend a day or two in that museum, and depending upon what movies are playing at the museum theatre and who is playing at Anderson Fair, I'd go to either or both of those at night. Could be fun! Anderson Fair, MFAH, Baba Yega restaurant for great people watching and great cheeseburgers, Texas Art Supply is right there (like a drugstore for a junky) and then also just sortof bopping around Montrose and Museum district. That's a fun weekend there, or would be for me, then drag ass back to Austin Sunday night, late, sucking down caffeine to stay awake on 71..
posted by dancestoblue at 12:45 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


mollymayhem: "I don't live in a part of the world where country music is commonly listened to or loved, so I don't get to share this sort of thing with most people."

If you live in a part of the world that has an internet connection, you can easy listen to Texas music. Saturday mornings and early afternoons are just spectacular shows, Sunday also great most of the day. (schedule here -- warning, pdf) Make sure to check out Larry Winters show -- he knows everything and everyone, a great Texas disk jockey. His show is called "Spare Change" -- it's great.

There are other radio stations that stream also of course, one great college station out of San Antone, which you can barely pick up in SA, has like a five mile broadcasting range but streaming is streaming; I'll find it if you're interested.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:00 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


asterix - I appreciate the thought, but my hookups for not having to deal with the insane crowds at HSB are dried up this year. And FUCK mingling with the crowd among that madness.

/spoiled entertainment industry employee
posted by mollymayhem at 5:51 AM on August 22, 2011


Seconding Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in SF. REK seems to be there every year.
posted by 6and12 at 4:00 PM on August 22, 2011


He has a new album coming out this month - Ready for Confetti. I can't wait. I had just discovered REK back more than 20 years ago, when I got my first chance to hear him play - in the Borders book store in north Dallas. I think he'd had a concert the night before, and he pulled in looking rode hard and put away wet as my dad would say, but oh that sound.
posted by jvilter at 5:12 AM on August 23, 2011


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