Robert Earl Keen
Farm Fresh Onions
The tenth album of Keen’s twenty-year career gets off to a good start with a trio of tunes that play to his strengths and de-emphasize his weaknesses. The slice of life roots-rocker “Furnace Fan” gets by on cleverness and solid ensemble work. The jangly “All I Have Is Today” has some nice harmonies and guitar work to recommend it. And a cover of the James McMurtry tune “Out Here in the Middle” benefits from the presence of Shawn Colvin on backing vocals and Ian McLagan on keys.
From there, things get a bit dicey. The problem as usual is Keen’s thin voice, which when lacking a strong melody and entertaining lyrics has trouble coming across. “Train Trek” is appropriately chugging, but ultimately monotonous. The talking blues title track devolves into a jam session, and the generic, slow-burn “So Sorry Blues” is in deperate need of a richer, more nuanced vocal. “Floppy Shoes” is a lame sub-Jimmy Buffett party tune with none of Buffett’s charisma.
Keen sounds much better tackling a dramatic narrative ballad like “These Years” or the reverb-laden stem-winder “Famous Words.” “Beats the Devil” and the closing ballad “Let the Music Play” have their moments as well. But Keen would be wise to stick to what he does best in the future.