Robert Earl Keen | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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ROBERT EARL KEEN

Though Robert Earl Keen remains less well-known than Texas compatriots like Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle, as a songwriter he has few peers. Combining a natural country twang with folk's long-running narratives, Keen pens vivid portraits of regular folks who get married, drink beer, have boisterous family gatherings, fight, go fishing, and generally fuck up their lives. Tunes like the hilariously close-to-home "Merry Christmas From the Family" aren't far from the tragedy that laces "Dreadful Selfish Crime" in that Keen masterfully recognizes the poignancy of ordinary events. Unfortunately his voice has quite a few limitations--a narrow range among them. But as 1994's excellent Gringo Honeymoon suggested, he's slowly learned to work within its confines. Live any vocal weakness is more than made up for with performance skill. As his recently released second live album, No. 2 Live Dinner (Sugar Hill), proves convincingly, not only do his songs come to life in concert, but his wicked sense of humor has a much sharper edge. Moreover, his lengthy song introductions reveal his considerable skill as a monologuist. He's also got a terrific band. Saturday, 10 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118. PETER MARGASAK

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