Robert Earl Keen is an archetypical Texas singer/songwriter, someone who can mine both laughter and tragedy from life along the dusty margins of life in the Lone Star State, and seeing that he's been recording good-to-great albums of his material since 1984, a comprehensive and well-programmed compilation offering a fully rounded introduction to his music would be more than welcome. However, 2007's Best isn't quite that album. While Keen had recorded a dozen albums by the time this was released, Best draws its 17 tunes from only six discs, two of which are live albums and three of which (Farm Fresh Onions, What I Really Mean and Live at the Ryman) are relatively recent efforts that presumably dominate the second half of this collection because they were easy to license rather than because they represent Keen's finest work. Quite frankly, a number of Keen's best songs are missing, such as "Dreadful Selfish Crime," "The Front Porch Song" and "I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight," while fan favorites like "The Five Pound Bass," "The Buckin' Song," "Barbecue" and "The Bluegrass Widow" don't make the cut, either. That said, if Best doesn't quite present Keen's best material (or even all his best known), there's little arguing that what's here is great stuff; Keen, who compiled this disc, has edited a satisfying sampler, hitting a graceful balance between crowd pleasers like "Merry Christmas from the Family" and "The Road Goes on Forever" (the latter prefaced by a rambling story in which Keen loses his car and his girl but meets Willie Nelson) and more resonant numbers like "Corpus Christi Bay," "Whenever Kindness Fails" and "For Love." If you're looking for a concise, career-spanning overview of Robert Earl Keen's long career in music, Best isn't as much help as you might wish, but the consistent quality is a sure convincer if you or someone you know wants some evidence of Keen's very real talent as a tunesmith and a performer.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming