Fabled Texas yarn spinner Robert Earl Keen has seen his songs resonate among his many fans for years, and his work has influenced a new generation of songwriters. With a quick, dry wit, he makes what he does sound easy, and that’s part of the problem. His laissez-faire attitude and detached, unemotional singing give his detractors the impression, fair or no, that he’s not trying that hard. Both fans and critics will be emboldened by The Rose Hotel (Lost Highway), Keen’s first album of new material in four years. Poignant, genial works like the title track and “Goodbye Cleveland,” as well as his Levon Helm tribute, “The Man Behind the Drums,” easily belong alongside the best songs in his canon. But setting Townes Van Zandt’s “Flying Shoes” to a throbbing rock beat is not exactly a creative reimagining, and choruses like “Throwing rocks, getting stoned” and a tune about his prowess at doing nothing (“Something That I Do”) don’t make the case for gravitas. None of this likely concerns Keen. It’s an inseparable part of his persona—which may keep him from being a critics’ darling but is key to his undeniable appeal.
The Rose Hotel
The latest album from Robert Earl Keen.
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