Robert Earl Keen sang in his most popular song, “The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.” It does, indeed, go on forever, but never on the straight and narrow. Keen’s new album, “Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions,” proves that. The standard edition features 15 songs, while the deluxe edition expands the listing to 20. None of the songs were penned by the Texas icon, rather by legends of the bluegrass genre, such as Flatt & Scruggs.
The album opens on a slightly different note, with a hard-edged cover of “Hot Corn, Cold Corn.” Though the recording features traditional bluegrass instruments, the arrangement puts the song in more of a blues tone. From there, it’s pure bluegrass, with a keen (pun intended) selection of songs that fit perfectly for Keen and his band, such as “99 Years For One Dark Day,” and “East Virginia Blues.”
The album was produced by Lloyd Maines, whose daughter, Natalie, formerly of The Dixie Chicks, does a chilling duet with Keen on “Wayfaring Stranger.” It doesn’t stop with Maines, however. The album also features appearances by Peter Rowan, Sara Watkins and Keen’s old buddy from college, Lyle Lovett.
Unlike most artists that release cover albums, Keen has figured out the key to doing it right: have fun. The album is fun to listen to and fits perfectly in any Robert Earl Keen fan’s library. Who knew that the guy who had his car burned to a crisp at Willie Nelson’s second annual picnic would go on to become one of the most respected songwriters in the business?
“Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions” is available in stores and online. For more information, visit www.robertearlkeen.com