Call it Americana. Call it Alt-Country. Call it Roots Rock, or whatever you want. You know the type of music, which blends country, blues, folk, rock and bluegrass for a sound that is partially all of the above and distinctly none of them.
REK, as he is known to his fans, released his first album, No Kinda Dancer in 1984, and has been steadily blending genres and producing music since. His latest album, and current tour, is Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions. The album was released Feb. 15, and has risen as high as No. 1 on the U.S. Bluegrass charts and No. 10 on the country charts.
Keen’s music has long been influenced by bluegrass music, and his latest album and tour are an honest and loving tribute to that genre. He brings a polish to the bluegrass songs despite the trademark grit in his voice. His backing band contribute more than plucked strings and rhythmic beats, often joining Keen in three- and four-part harmonies on the traditional songs. The music is less like a production of today and closer to a group of friends or family picking and singing the front porch on a Southern summer night.
So far on his tour, Keen has been mixing in some old favorites like “Feelin Good Again,” “I’m Comin Home,” “Gringo Honeymoon,” and “Corpus Christi Bay,” while extensively covering the new album.
Keen is a former classmate of Lyle Lovett from his Texas A&M days, and Lovett features in a duet on the Happy Prisoner song “T for Texas.” Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks provides vocals on the song, “Wayfaring Stranger,” on the album, although neither is currently touring with Keen.
Opening for Keen are The Roosevelts, a folk-rock duo based in Nashville. Their website describes their music as “rock – with a mandolin.”