What the hell is "Americana" and why is it something we use to describe things? Does it mean that something is intrinsically "American?" I know when the word is used to describe music it means a hodgepodge of folk, country, blues, bluegrass, rock and R&B, but isn't that just spouting off different genres of music and trying to make them the same? Can a French band combine those genres and still be considered "Americana" and, if not, aren't we being a little exclusionary with our music, America? Robert Earl Keen is described as an "Americana" musician, but really he has the voice of a bluesman, the mandolin skills of a bluegrass player and the songwriting style of an old-school country crooner. He bounces between genres whenever he feels the need, because after 18 albums and 32 years in the business he can do as he damn well pleases. He's not checking boxes, he's writing and playing the music that means something to him.
Keen's new record, "Live Dinner Reunion," is a celebration of the 20th anniversary of his most famous album, " No. 2 Live Dinner." The energy of the live recording is palpable and the audience is beside themselves over each track. With guests like Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Bruce Robison, Cody Morrow and Cody Canada, the album is varied enough to keep Keen's music endlessly entertaining. As one of the godfathers of Texas country music and singer/songwriters in particular, Keen is an effortless storyteller and musician. "Live Dinner Reunion" sees him at his best whether he's shooting the breeze with the audience about the weather or nailing his classics like "I Gotta Go" and "Amarillo Highway." It's a fun and high-energy album that should make him a few new fans and solidify some old ones. Call his music whatever you would like to... except maybe "Americana."
Robert Earl Keen
Thursday, Jan. 19, 7pm.
Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St., Bend