Mention the name Robert Earl Keen, and several descriptive terms spring to mind – Texas singer-songwriter, career artist, brilliant storyteller, sardonic humorist, poet of the strange and familiar. And now with the release of his latest album, Happy Prisoner, there is what may seem a surprising addition to that list – bluegrass singer.
“I've had a lifelong love of bluegrass,” says Keen. “I've always had an affinity for music that I felt like you'd listen to in your living room. Music that felt real. My mom liked the old hillbilly music, and as a kid, I used to fall asleep listening to an 8-track tape of Jimmie Rodgers' greatest hits. When I was in 9th grade, one of my first dates was taking a girl to a bluegrass festival. That sounds crazy for someone in Texas. But I was fascinated with that music, even though it wasn't part of the gulf coast at all. When I started playing, my first guitar hero was Norman Blake. In college, I had a bluegrass band called the Front Porch Boys, went to fiddle contests, learned a jillion fiddle and old-timey songs. My whole education in music started with bluegrass.
“And that's partly where the album title comes from,” he continues. “I've been listening to it forever, I love it, and so I feel like I'm something of a happy prisoner of bluegrass."