Ready for Confetti
The latest album from Robert Earl Keen includes a couple of outstanding songs. But taken overall this is a perplexing mixture of an album, parts of which seem to find Keen, aided and abetted by producer Lloyd Maines, stepping out of his comfort zone in a calculated quest for more commercial appeal.
Keen is justifiably renowned as a gifted lyricist, so building a song round a polished production and a catchy chorus is not really what he does best. The title track, with its throwaway chorus of Get ready for confetti, hey hey hey, is initially catchy but all too soon becomes grating. Similarly “Waves On The Ocean” is a poppy but unremarkable song with an unfortunate reggae-infused beat, and “Top Down” contributes a further irritating chorus.
Elsewhere, though, there are examples of what he does best. “Paint The Town Beige” is a superb melancholic country ballad that would grace any album that finds Keen looking back on his hell-raising days from a more mature perspective. While accepting that he has now settled down, the song wryly acknowledges that he still sometimes gets the urge to go out drinking. But this is a re-recording of an old song – the original appeared on Keen's 1993 album Bigger Piece of Sky – and in truth this version is not radically different.
The best new song is the venomous ”The Road Goes On And On”, in which Keen shows off his gift for a biting lyric full of passion and bile: You're malicious and downright cruel, Superstitious and so uncool, Best wishes you loudmouthed fool, I hope I never see you again. It sounds like it's about a fellow performer, and is allegedly directed at Toby Keith. Given album producer Lloyd Maines is the father of Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, who have also had a public falling-out with Keith, that seems feasible. Also worth hearing are a cover of Todd Snider's “Play A Train Song” which may be better than the original, “I Gotta Go”, a simple song neatly realised, and “Black Baldy Stallion” featuring Spanish-style guitar and way-out-west harmonica.
Keen is not the first artist to seek out more mainstream success, and if he doesn't get the balance quite right on Ready For Confetti, it's to be hoped that it's not at the expense of losing some of his core audience.