Robert Earl Keen

Farm Fresh Onions

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For close to two decades, Robert Earl Keen has been one of the great archetypical Texas singer/songwriters, offering up well-crafted narratives and witty slice-of-life tunes accompanied by melodies that flowed on a river of tart, dusty twang. But Keen offers a bit of a changeup on his eighth studio album, Farm Fresh Onions; while Keen's songwriting remains as sharp as ever and his vocals -- a regular-guy drawl that proves to be an especially malleable instrument, capable of delivering comedy and tragedy with equal skill -- are in fine shape, it appears Keen felt like rocking out a bit more on this set, and rock out he does. The chugging guitars on "Train Trek" and "Beat the Devil," the loose and casual funk of "Floppy Shoes," and the Farfisa-and-chicken-scratch goofiness of the title cut don't exactly turn this into Keen's bid for the cover of Circus, but much of Farm Fresh Onions does swing harder and offer more challenging textures than many fans would expect, and even by the standards of the author of "Five Pound Bass" and "The Bluegrass Widow," "Farm Fresh Onions" and "Floppy Shoes" rank high on the silliness meter. But while Keen wanted to have some fun with this set, he also offers a goodly portion of music that will please longtime fans -- the small-town blues of "Out Here in the Middle," the dour gig-gone-bad of "Furnace Fan," and the late-night laments of "Famous Words" and "Let the Music Play." Farm Fresh Onions shows that Robert Earl Keen is still finding new directions to take his talents, while at the same time staying in touch with the music that's made his name, and he's in solid form on both sides of the fence.

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