Danny O'Keefe

O'Keefe

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AllMusic Review by

While 1972's O'Keefe scored singer/songwriter Danny O'Keefe his biggest hit ever with "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues," -- and continues to garner him royalty checks because of all the people who covered it (Elvis among them), the album is a classic in its own right. The single is the opening track, and it remains one of the greatest songs about desolation ever written. Produced by Arif Mardin in Memphis, it features sidemen like Buddy Emmons and Reggie Young, and also Eddie and David Brigati! Also here is "The Road," a track made infamous by Jackson Browne on Running on Empty. O'Keefe's version is a bit faster, but more subdued. It's all in his voice, not in the instrumentation, except for an acoustic guitar that plays mantra-like behind him in the longish intro; sounding like a melancholy pastoral is a bit snappy and never prepares the listener for the words. Like the sound of motion itself -- with telephone poles, the songs, the shows, and road signs slipping past into memory -- this original version is far spookier; it's every bit as dark as "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues." This is the sound of dislocation itself. The laughter and small conversations, the sights and sounds and smells, and when O'Keefe sings of "coffee in the mornings, cocaine afternoons," he sings as if it's all part of one long movie. He means it, there is no boasting in his delivery -- unlike Browne's version. O'Keefe's in it, it's all happening to him and he participates. But he's not even there. It's all moving by, going behind the singer in an expressionistic blur. Whatever he's running from is on his tail, but as long as he's incognito and remains detached, it will never catch him -- but he knows he's lying in the choruses. When Leo LeBlanc's pedal steel enters, especially in those steps in the refrain, it's the sound of the road itself. It bears secrets but doesn't tell them. The rest of the album feels like some elegant rogue dealt himself in at the American music poker table. There the roots stuff, a solid cover of Hank Williams' "Honky Tonkin'," his own bluesy "Grease It," and "Louie the Hook vs. The Preacher," but there are more sophisticated tunes here as well, the most beautiful among them the haunting "Valentine Pieces." O'Keefe is utterly solid, so completely diverse and tight; it's a forgotten masterpiece.

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