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The Lowdown:

Robert Earl Keen

Based In:
Kerrville, TX



Ready For Confetti

Release Date:
August 30, 2011

Lost Highway Records

Previous Releases:
No Kinda Dancer (1984), West Textures (1989), A Bigger Piece of Sky (1993), Gringo Honeymoon (1994), Picnic (1997), Walking Distance (1998), Gravitational Forces (2001), Farm Fresh Onions (2003), What I Really Mean (2005), The Rose Hotel (2009)

Americana, country,

Robert Earl Keen, Ready For Confetti album cover

Rating: 8 out of 10



September 5, 2011


Robert Earl Keen: Ready For Confetti

by Alan "Pender" Pendergrass


Robert Earl Keen is considered by many to be the poet laureate of Texas. He’s written several songs that are undeniably among the best country music has to offer. He can also grow a pretty slick beard.

Robert Earl Keen is a legend to many country music fans—including a perpetual coterie of A&M frat boys—and he’s a personal favorite of mine, so I’ve been waiting for his latest album, Ready for Confetti, for a while. And with his constant social media updates about it—he’s still new to the scene; he signs each of his posts “rek” like they’re written on Post-It notes—I couldn’t forget the launch date if I wanted to.

If you don’t know much Robert Earl Keen, you should check him out. He’ll be the first to admit he’s not the best singer in the world, and not the best musician in his own band. Keen’s talents lie in his song writing. He composes vivid, memorable lyrics, and some of his best known songs like “The Road Goes On Forever” and “Corpus Christi Bay” have been covered by more than a handful of major country/Americana artists. He’s an epic storyteller and all his best songs share that same trait.

Active since the mid-eighties, Keen has a back catalog of literally dozens of phenomenal songs. Perhaps his most impressive trait is that he hasn’t slowed down much—each of his last two records (2005’s What I Really Mean and 2009’s The Rose Hotel) contain at least a couple of tunes that stack up against his best stuff.

So, again, I was pumped about this one.

But while it’s a good album, Ready for Confetti suffers the same fate as recently reviewed Old 97’s and Drive-By Truckers work—it’s got more than a few good songs on it, but no great ones, which is unusual for Robert Earl Keen. In that respect, it’s a little disappointing, but upon a second and third listening, the album really grows on you. Especially interesting is how much of a change of pace it represents from his usual musical style. Once I just accepted there was no homerun on this thing, I found myself enjoying it a lot more.

The opener is strong. “Black Baldy Stallion” sounds (mostly lyrically, a little musically) like Marty Robbins’ “El Paso.” It starts off like the part where the dude returns to claim his Mexican maiden, with an ominous tone foreshadowing similar results. Keen has a weird delivery on the verses, where he crams all the lines into a giant run-on sentence that makes you wonder when he’s going to take a breath. It sounds cool, actually, and by the time he reaches the chorus it’s almost a relief knowing he didn’t pass out. This story song is extremely typical of Keen, if not necessarily his best example. But it’s solid.

The album’s first single is “I Gotta Go,” which is essentially one of those “stop and smell the roses” kind of things, but set against the dark background of one guy’s shitty life:

Born one morning on the day of the dead
In a bombed out bungalow
My mama kissed my cheek and said
I gotta go

His life gets a lot worse from there, but this is not a good start. It’s a bit hard to say for sure, but this is probably the best track on here. It’s got a faster pace than the opener, is true to REK’s lyrical style, and has a unique sound courtesy of some hand clapping and freaky percussion. Maybe “Caribbean-sounding” is a better description than freaky…either way, it’s good.

He also covers Todd Snider’s “Play a Train Song,” which first showed up on the East Nashville Skyline album a few years back. It’s an absolutely awesome song, and I actually like this one more than Snider’s original version, which sounds a little too…noisy, I guess…for its subject matter. It’s a song about an old dude dying, like “Desperados Waiting For a Train” and numerous others, and with its great lyrics it plays better the way Snider does it live: acoustic and stripped down. It’s hard to imagine the best lyrics on a Robert Earl Keen album would be from a cover, but I can’t argue with these:

I’ve got this old black leather jacket, this pack of Marlboro reds
I’ve got this stash here in my pocket, got these thoughts in my own head
The right to run until I’ve got to walk, ‘til I’ve got to crawl
I’ve got this moment that I’m in right now and nothing else at all

“Play a Train Song” would be a great choice for a funeral. If I were the director, I’d play a Todd Snider live acoustic version in the church, and the REK version at the bar afterwards. The plugged-in versions (both this one and Snider’s) are significantly more ass kicking.

“The Road Goes On and On” is another interesting one. A response song/giant “fuck you” to Toby Keith (which I support whatever the circumstances), Keen explains its origins in an interview with the Austin Statesman:

It's been some stuff that has happened over the years, but the last thing was that single off his last record ["Bullets in the Gun"]. I never pay any attention, but my phone exploded with e-mails and texts about the song; People were saying, how come he took your song and why didn't he come up with his own song?

Melodically, it's not dead on top of it, but cadence-wise and story-wise, it's taken out of [Keen's song] "The Road Goes On Forever."

I had a choice to hit back with some kind of lawsuit. But my mother was a lawyer, and I watched people waste their lives in lawsuits. God bless all the lawyers in the world, but I think lawsuits are a waste of life.

So, since I wasn't about to sue him, so I thought I'd answer in kind. I just wanted to say, stop with the nonsense. So I wrote him a song

The best of many biting lyrics is probably “The original Liar’s Paradox / You’ll have to Google that!” It’s nice to have validation that Toby Keith The Person is as much of a douchebag as Toby Keith The Singer. Fun song.

Others worth a listen include the title track, “Ready for Confetti,” which makes little sense to me lyrically but has a fun sound and vaguely reminds me of Dire Straits’ “Skateaway.”  “Waves On the Ocean” features more of that reggae-style beat that makes this album unique. “Top Down” frankly sounds like it might have been written about the same guy as “The Road Goes On and On.” You’ll have to check them out to see what I mean—Toby has really pissed Robert Earl off.

“Lay Down My Brother” and “Soul of Man” are pretty big misses for me. They both sound like old-timey hymns, which “Soul of Man” actually is. That should be great in theory, but they plod along too slowly to ever hook me, even after patiently re-listening.

A man, a guitar, and some big sky. Yeah, I'd say that pretty much sums Robert Earl Keen up right there.

“Paint the Town Beige” is a re-recording of one of my favorite Robert Earl Keen songs, one that came out almost twenty years ago on the classic A Bigger Piece of Sky. What’s odd is I’m not sure why this needed to be re-recorded. Not that I mind the new version, but it doesn’t particularly add anything that was missing from the original, which I frankly still prefer. But this is still an all-time favorite, and well worth your time.

After a handful of listens, I like this album quite a bit. I’m a little disappointed that none of the individual tracks wowed me, but even so there’s a lot of quality here. In general, there’s a little less focus on lyrical depth compared to Keen’s previous albums, but there’s more musical variety. It’s fun to hear some of these tracks bring in the reggae influences, Motown girl-group hand claps, and other flourishes that are atypical of REK’s past music. Well worth it for Keen fans—and probably fun for casual country listeners too—Ready For Confetti deserves a listen for anybody who digs this genre.


Buy Ready For Confetti on Amazon!
mp3 cd vinyl


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