Folkman Robert Earl Keen returns to Charleston this weekend with a new live disc in hand that celebrates more than two decades of his lighthearted, earthy songs of country and western Americana.

A poet since he could pick up a pencil, the Texas native never strummed a guitar until he entered college. Once he began putting his poems to catchy folk riffs, Keen gained popularity first in his home state and then in Nashville, emerging in the early ’80s with a group of “alternative county” artists.

Keen’s latest album, Live at the Ryman, recorded at the former home of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, revisits such Keen classics as “Gringo Honeymoon,” “The Road Goes on Forever,” and “Corpus Christy Bay.” The live disc comes on the heels of the 2005 studio album, What I Really Mean, an uncomplicated collection of steel-guitar country twang and jazz-infused pop-bluegrass.

Often hailed as the most successful artist no one’s heard ever of, Keen is probably better known for his songwriting skills than his prowess as a musician. Keen’s songs have been recorded by the likes of Lyle Lovett, George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, and the Highwaymen.

Keen himself admits that the simplicity of his music is really what attracts people to it. –Kristen George

Robert Earl Keen plays this Fri. Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. at the Charleston Music Hall (37 John St.). Tickets are $27 and can be purchased at or by phone, (800)514-3849.

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