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Robert Earl Keen, Jr. has built a career out of making albums that straddle the line between the thoughtful and the comic, and twenty years into the game he isn't about to stop now -- nor should he, since he's still quite good at it. What I Really Mean, Keen's ninth studio set, typically veers back and forth between compelling meditations on life and love (such as the sweeping album opener "For Love," the impassioned "The Wild Ones," and the lonesome travelogue of the title cut), and surreal comic vignettes which show that his sense of humor is getting a bit stranger with the passage of time. "The Great Hank" imagines meeting a risen Hank Williams as he performs in drag in Pennsylvania; "Mr. Wolf and Mamabear" takes an old fairy tale into wholly unexpected directions, and "A Border Tragedy" is easily the oddest of his many tunes about traveling through Mexico (with a beautiful but wildly incongruous cameo from Ray Price). If there's news here, it's that after years of being regarded as a songwriter who isn't much of a singer, Keen has been gaining an impressive new control of his instrument, and What I Really Mean features some of his most compelling performances to date, especially on a superb cover of Jimmie Driftwood's "Long Chain," and the production by longtime associate Rich Brotherton shows him off to fine advantage. In some respects, What I Really Mean is "another Robert Earl Keen album," but it's also another good one, and shows he's still one of the most viable voices in the Texas singer/songwriter community.
Performance CreditsRobert Earl Keen Primary Artist,Vocals
Danny Barnes Banjo
Rich Brotherton Synthesizer,Acoustic Guitar,Mandolin,Piano,Electric Guitar,Cittern,national steel guitar,Vocal Harmony
Nick Connolly Organ
Marty Muse Steel Guitar
Riley Osbourne Organ,Piano
Tom Van Schaik Percussion,Drums
Bill Whitbeck Bass,Background Vocals,Vocal Harmony
E.J. Jones Northumbrian Smallpipes
John H.R. Mills Soprano Saxophone
Eamon McLoughlin Fiddle,Viola
Wendy Meeker Violin,Group Member
Jorge Luis "Papiosko" Torres Guitar,Vocals,Group Member
Raymundo Garcia Trumpet,Group Member
Technical CreditsRich Brotherton Producer,Engineer
Robert Earl Keen Composer
Stuart Sullivan Engineer
Edward B. Marks Composer
Bill Whitbeck Composer