Robert Earl Keen

Live Dinner Reunion

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In 1996, Robert Earl Keen was a Texas singer/songwriter with a healthy fan following when he played a gig at John T. Floore's Country Store, a celebrated restaurant and concert venue in Helotes, Texas, just northwest of San Antonio. Keen recorded the show, and the subsequent album, No. 2 Live Dinner, became a de facto greatest-hits album and an enduring favorite both in and outside the Lone Star State. Twenty years later, as No. 2 Live Dinner was celebrating its china anniversary, Keen returned to Floore's Country Store to record a sequel. By this time, Keen had become an enduring figure in the Texas music community, and 2016's Live Dinner Reunion finds him playing before an audibly larger and more enthusiastic crowd than he had two decades previously. The second time around, Keen brought along a few friends and fellow Lone Star icons as guests, including Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Bruce Robison, and Cody Canada. Where No. 2 Live Dinner was an enjoyable summing up of the first dozen years of Keen's recording career, Live Dinner Reunion is a celebration of his place in the pantheon of Texas music, a spot where he has a sizable and sometimes rowdy fan base. Keen knows he's a small fish compared to Willie Nelson, but he's also a hero to a generation of younger tunesmiths and music fans. All in all, that's not a bad place to be, and if Keen and his current band are tighter and a bit more professional than they were in 1996, Keen performs with a similar degree of enthusiasm, and his interaction with the audience is breezy and appreciative. This album devotes more space to past glories than recent REK copyrights, but he still sings and plays them like he enjoys them, and the guest spots -- especially Lovett on "This Old Porch" and Ely on "The Road Goes on Forever" -- lend a fresher perspective to the old chestnuts. If a sequel to a 20-year-old live album doesn't sound like a good idea at first glance, Live Dinner Reunion comes surprisingly close to capturing the same magic as the original, and it confirms Robert Earl Keen is still at the top of his game as a singer and showman.

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