Keene Brothers

Blues and Boogie Shoes

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As the benevolent dictator of Guided by Voices, Robert Pollard worked with a number of talented rock musicians during the band's nearly 20-year lifespan, but with Pollard indisputably in charge at all times, one gets the impression that he didn't truly collaborate with his bandmates so much as he used them as a vehicle to communicate his own singular vision of hard pop/rock. Now that Pollard has abandoned the Guided by Voices rubric, he's entered into his first project with a genuine creative equal since recording with former GbV guitarist Tobin Sprout. While Tommy Keene has never gained the same hipster cred as Pollard, his best work has been every bit as strong as GbV's career highlights (check out the superb indie-period anthology The Real Underground and his Geffen debut Songs from the Film for proof, if you can find them), and when Keene signed on as guitarist for Pollard's road band following the release of From a Compound Eye, they began writing songs together, resulting in a collaborative side project, the Keene Brothers. Blues and Boogie Shoes is the first (and hopefully not the last) album from the Keene Brothers, and while it's a more modest affair it sounds significantly stronger and more satisfying than Pollard's much-vaunted "official solo debut" and fuses muscular rock guitar with glorious pop hooks as well as anything GbV ever released. With Keene in charge of the instrumental side of the program, the guitars both chime and crunch while the drums bash away in glorious fury -- Keene's musical vision is certainly simpatico with Pollard's, but he offers enough fresh melodic twists to give the songs new blood that serves them well, and his guitar work is consistently excellent without a hint of needless flash. Pollard's approach as a singer and lyricist isn't radically different than what's he's been doing for years, but he sounds audibly jazzed by Keene's contributions, and these performances are focused, passionate, and firmly committed; simply put, he rocks out here, and Keene's music responds in kind. Blues and Boogie Shoes is the best kind of collaboration, one that shows both artists at their advantage, and if you've ever enjoyed either Pollard's or Keene's work in the past, this is an album you'll want to own -- and repeatedly play good and loud.

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