Review of Happy Prisoner on Prescription Bluegrass

God bless Robert Earl Keen for restoring my faith in artistic integrity! This is a dooooozy of a CD, and it’s as real as dirt under your fingernails. It’s bluegrass, it’s old timey, it’s honest, straight from the heart, Mother Earth music and Robert Earl has done the world a favor recording this tribute to the music he loves and grew up listening to.

Robert Earl Keen had come to Durango, CO. a while back for two nights of concerts, which were both sold out, and I managed to be out of town and miss ‘em both! Friends had informed me that he had also been interviewed on KSUT, the local PBS station, and had mentioned he had a bluegrass CD coming out soon. I couldn’t help myself, my first thought was: “Just what we need, another country/pop/rock/reality star going BLUEGRASS to try to make some money.” Call me a grumpy old pessimist, but that’s exactly what has been happening…. Janie Fricke going “bluegrass” was nothing more that her old country hits re-done with some acoustic instruments added. Her intent was like a neon sign….. Let’s call it “bluegrass” and cash in! I passed on reviewing it. And Dolly…. she had a grand total of four bluegrass tunes on her last CD, and immediately the bluegrass media was called to help promote her “bluegrass” CD. I passed on Dolly, too. Needless to say, I wasn’t sure what to make of Mr. Keen’s new bluegrass CD when it arrived….. fool me once and all that old curmudgeonly crap! As a fan of Mr. Keen’s music, I knew that I had to give ol’ Robert a listen, and maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t get fooled again. Well, I guess the third time was THE charm!!!

This was no haphazard attempt, whipped out and sent off to Dualtone Records. With fourteen songs, all of which are recognizable hits in their own right, REK has dipped into the well of fine traditional music and poured us all a long, tall drink of American musical history. Robert Earl’s duet with Lyle Lovett, on the Jimmie Rogers tune “T for Texas,” Natalie Maines, singing harmony on “Wayfaring Stranger, and Mr. Peter Rowan, adding his touch to “99 Years For One Dark Day,” are three vocal highlights that are absolutely spot on. Three and four part harmony abounds all over this release and not only do they strengthen the CD, they add a touch of classic old time gospel type singing to the proceedings. REK has a voice that sometimes can be coarse, raspy and more than a little haggard (no… not Merle Haggard!) sounding, but, he’s always made his natural singing voice an asset to his trade mark sound. You always know its Robert Earl the minute he opens his mouth.

Read the full review on Prescription Bluegrass.