Live: Robert Earl Keen, Houston

Robert Earl Keen played a short in-store at Cactus Music in Houston.

Any time Texas singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen plays Houston, it’s an event. After all, Keen is a Houston boy, born and raised, and his fan base is larger in H-Town than any place else.

So you can imagine folks were pretty pumped for Keen’s in-store performance Wednesday at Cactus Music & Record Ranch, to promote Keen’s latest CD Ready For Confetti. Those of us who were lucky enough to experience Steve Earle’s generous tour-de-force at Cactus this past spring were hoping for a similar intimate evening with the legendary Robert Earl Keen.

But it wasn’t to be – even before Keen hit the stage, we were informed that things were gonna run on a tight schedule: he had even pre-signed CDs for those who purchased them in advance! So Keen came on, wearing his trademark “game warden” cowboy hat and looking pretty road-weary.

Right at the outset he informed the crowd he was gonna play only three songs, and went into “Play A Train Song” off the new album. That one, Keen said, was written by Todd Snider.

Before the next tune, Keen explained that he grew up in Houston, where he said “we thought the way to celebrate Christmas was to shoot roman candles off the back of a riding lawnmower.”  He and bass player Bill Whitbeck then kicked into the bluesy “Who Do Man,” one of the highlights from the new album that also featured some nifty guitar picking from Keen.

The set closed with “The Man Behind The Drums,” from 2009’s The Rose Hotel. Keen said he and Whitbeck wrote the tune after playing Levon Helm’s Ramble once up in Levon’s home studio in Woodstock, N.Y. “For those of you who are fans of Levon in the Band, or fans of his movies,” Keen said, “he’s really as small as he looks.”

Then REK ambled off to sell and sign some more CDs before the bigger show he was to play later Wednesday night. Always a pleasure to see this excellent performer in an intimate setting, I just wish he had just a little more time to linger.

Ah, well. For those of you who don’t have a fine record store like Cactus Music in your hometown, here’s a great story from the Houston Press about the greatest in-stores in the 30-plus-year history of the venerable Houston music institution.

Get the single “I Gotta Go” from Ready For Confetti, free from iTunes

Robert Earl Keen official website

Robert Earl Keen, left, with bassist Bill Whitbeck at Cactus Music.

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