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Robert Earl Keen "A Bigger Piece of Sky" Sugar Hill

April 01, 1993|MIKE BOEHM

Here comes yet another Texan with wit, a storyteller's gift and the willingness to apply them to country music that keeps a wide berth from cliches and commercial norms.

One of Keen's trademarks is the darkly comic streak that comes out in songs such as "Whenever Kindness Fails" and "Blow You Away," in which people faced with the stresses and slights of ordinary living turn violent and nasty, or at least fantasize about it. But Keen also offers convincing romanticism as an antidote to his mean-streets accounts. The album has a good mix of moods and styles, ranging from the wind-swept portents of "Here in Arkansas" to the blithe, jazzy swing of "Daddy Had a Buick."

Keen is abetted by some ace singers and players, including string man Tommy Spurlock, former E-Streeter Garry Tallent and duet partner Maura O'Connell. He is no golden-throat, but his brand of alternative country doesn't demand it. Working in a narrative mode where it's most important to make the stories and characterizations vivid, Keen's laconic, rough-hewn voice works just fine.

Fans of such Texas-connected country outsiders as Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Jerry Jeff Walker should take note.

(P.O. Box 4040, Duke Station, Durham, N.C. 27706 . )

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