Listen Up: Wednesday, October 15, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Robert Earl Keen

Farm Fresh Onions Audium/Koch Records

By Jeff Prince

To the under-30 crowd, Texas Music began with Robert Earl Keen, who inspired the Cross Canadian Ragweeds and Jason Bolands and created the country-rock frat boy scene. (Note to backward-ballcap-wearing-beer-bongers: Keen won’t say it, but he hates it when you crowd the stage, continuously holler at him to sing anthems, such as “The Road Goes On Forever,” and then drown out his vocals with your drunken bellowing.) The title song to Keen’s latest c.d., Farm Fresh Onions, provides a challenge to these followers. Call it drawl-rap — an offbeat, wordy, rambling statement that’s the antithesis of a singalong. Of course, die-hard fans will surely learn every syllable and shout them proudly at shows, but at least they’ll have to work harder. Not that there’s any reason to — the song sucks. A cool guitar riff and funky beat offer false hope, quickly ruined by a stream of consciousness vent that gets old in a hurry. For Keen, it’s avant garde. Power to him for trying something unique, but this song whiffs worse than Barry Bonds in a clutch at-bat.

The disc begins with an alt-country bang. The first four songs — “Furnace Fan,” “All I Have Is Today,” James McMurtry’s “Out Here In The Middle,” and “Train Trek” — are solid and fun, making one wonder if Keen was building toward a couple of climactic anthems that would put this collection on par with his strongest efforts. But then comes the lame “Farm Fresh Onions,” and, after that, it’s mostly downhill until the last song, “Let The Music Play,” comes along and redeems its crappy predecessors. The c.d., released on an independent label, isn’t a washout by any means. Guitarist Rich Brotherton is producer, and he obviously urged bandmates to cut loose. Eleven new Keen originals can’t help but provide introspection and doses of wit, and a handful of these songs will sound fine on stage. As a whole, though, Farm Fresh Onions smacks of a disjointed experiment that didn’t quite work.


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