Don't blame Robert Earl Keen Jr. if the twin daughters of our reigning usurper name him as one of their favorite singers. Keen is handsome, affable and from Texas, after all. Nor should he be blamed for frat-capped Texicana simpletons such as Pat Green and Cory Morrow, both of whom have robotically followed the least interesting elements of Keen's anthemic folk rock and created their own cookie-cutter Americana answer to corporate country. Keen has never pandered to Lone Star chauvinism, and his finest songs subvert the romantic myths of the sagebrush troubadour. "Dreadful Selfish Crime," from his best album, Gringo Honeymoon, is a hilarious and brutally honest look at an Austin rocker who finally admits, "I have robbed myself of all my precious time." In "Corpus Christi Bay," he imagines living his life over but knows he'd fuck it up again. In "Mariano," a portrait of the Mexican migrants who tend the gardens of privileged Texans, Keen takes on the taboo of class and never flinches.After 1997's Picnic, a slick, unfocused attempt to cross over to the rock side of the alternative-country divide, Keen finally returned with Walking Distance,tapping into the narrative texture and humor of his best work and leaving the Aggie frat boys in the dust. Those who remember Keen's last St. Louis appearance, some four years ago at the now-defunct Big Muddy music festival, know what his live shows are like: furiously joyful and unrepentantly sincere. Go early, not just because this show will be jammed but because Chip Taylor (yes, he wrote "Wild Thing") opens.
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