There’s something about the Lone Star Nation that some of us may never quite get. But like Robert Earl Keen’s buddy Lyle Lovett sings, “That’s right, you’re not from Texas/but Texas wants you anyway,” fans of vivid songwriting set to rowdy steel-tinged honky-tonk seem to reside in every corner of the lower 48.
Keen is likely known first for his whiskey and beer swilling (not him, necessarily) live performances, fueled by sing-along favorites like “The Road Goes on Forever” and “Corpus Christi Bay.” But the creativity and imagery of his finely crafted lyrics have already earned him a place among the greats of Texas songwriters.
“For years I’d write songs just like someone cramming for a final,” says Keen. “I’d get this feeling that I was overdue for a record, so I’d take off work for three weeks and write, then go in the studio and cobble them together. This time [his new album is due this fall] I’ve been trying to write when I can, based on inspiration, and making some good demo versions as I go.”
He’s played some of those new songs over the last few months of touring, and says people come up and ask him what record a song is on. Keen jokes, “I go, ‘Well, it’s not,’ and they say, ‘Well, how do I get that song?’ You can’t! I don’t know. Bootleg it, go on the internet and steal it somehow.”
Keen’s sound has held steady for 25 years, with the exception of crossing from mostly acoustic to more electric guitars.
“I’ve always had the desire to do something original and left of center, and I think I’ve kept that up as far as the writing itself,” he says.
Keen recently released a compilation, Best, spanning his full career, and he’s excited to return to the Windjammer for two nights. “Everybody there seems like they’re loose and having a good time,” he says. “Here, people are listening — they’re just grooving more. If the audience is comfortable then I feel comfortable.”
Robert Earl Keen shares the stage with Matt King at the Windjammer (1008 Ocean Blvd., 843-886-8948) on Tues. May 27 and Wed. May 28. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are available for $25. Visit www.robertearlkeen.com for more.