By Hal Horowitz
Played and recorded with the style, class, charm as always, Western Chill confirms that although Robert Earl Keen has quit the road, he will remain artistically active and unique.
1. Western Chill
2. Blue Light
4. Hello Stranger
5. The City
6. Let's Valet
9. Bones and Flowers
10. Sweet Summer Rain
11. Mr. Mockingbird
12. Mr. Blues on the Run
13. Walking On
14. Rippling Waters
“The road goes on forever,” Robert Earl Keen famously sang back in 1989 (and many times since). That may have proven not to be the case as he wrapped up what he claims was his final tour in late 2022, but he never said he would stop recording, as Western Chill, the storied Texas singer/songwriter’s first set of original material in a decade, proves.
Part of a larger venture, the release also includes a full-length live performance video of the album and a 92-page color graphic novel featuring Keen in a story about an artist with writer’s block, ultimately leading to the creation of this album’s title track. It’s a little scattered, but shows Keen using his time off the road seriously, participating in artistic endeavors he didn’t have the bandwidth to work on before abandoning the endless highway.
Western Chill’s 14 tracks unspool leisurely over an hour, finding Keen, and notably some key band participants, crafting low-key, meditative music reflecting the album’s titular notion. His supporting outfit is noted on the cover for good reason as some songs are written, co-authored and even sung by members Brian Beken, Bill Whitbeck and others. Keen is credited with vocals and writing just eight selections.
The vibe remains consistent though. It ranges from the breezy ‘Margaritaville’-styled, hammock-and-umbrella-cocktail groove of ‘Balmorhea’ to the meditative ballad ‘Marfa’, the famed Texas town which also plays a part in the graphic book. The pace picks up on the western swing of ‘Mr. Blues’, a natural for Asleep at the Wheel to cover, and goes lounge jazz/folk/swing for the bittersweet ‘Mr. Mockingbird’, sung and co-written by Whitbeck. Strains of Keen’s buddy and contemporary Lyle Lovett appear throughout, specifically on the dry humor and restrained, low lights jazz of ‘Let’s Valet’.
It’s all played and recorded with the style, class, charm and grace Keen has always exhibited. Together with the rest of the package, Western Chill confirms that although Robert Earl Keen has quit the road, he will remain artistically active, producing future unique projects like this that expand on the rootsy Texas singer/songwriter sound from his extensive catalog, hopefully bringing his dedicated audience with him.
Western Chill is out on Friday 14th April via Scriptorium Rex