Robert Earl Keen is a legend in country music and an even bigger legend in Texas. From “The Road Goes On Forever” to “That Buckin’ Song”, Keen has been responsible for some of the best country music to ever come out of the Lone Star State. He has recently released his latest project, which goes off the beaten path for Keen. Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions is a trip to the hills of Kentucky for some good old fashioned bluegrass. If anything, this album proves that when you have talent, you have talent and some men can truly do it all.
Bluegrass is a genre that is very rooted in its traditions and history. Many times when an artist decides to take on a bluegrass project, they throw in a lot of covers as a respect to that tradition. Robert Earl Keen certainly went down that road, with almost every track being a traditional bluegrass song, and the ones that aren’t are still covers, just that aren’t necessarily attributed to bluegrass as its home genre. Songs like “Long Black Veil” and “T For Texas” both are country classics that work well as bluegrass songs. Lyle Lovett provides his one of a kind vocals to “T For Texas”, making Jimmie Rodger’s hit a highlight of the album. Other highlights include the gospel tune “This World Is Not My Home” and the fun “Hot Corn, Cold Corn”. Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, whose father Lloyd Maines produced this record, guest stars on a fantastic rendition of “Wayfaring Stranger”. “White Dove” and Keen’s cover of Richard Thompson’s “52 Vincent Black Lightning” also are two of the better tracks. Of course, the Stanley Brother’s staple “Footprints In The Snow” is always a classic tune.
Bluegrass albums are a weird thing. Many of these songs have been heard just like this a million times. Yet, that’s what makes this album good. The fact that there isn’t some crazy, totally unique approach to the songs is what makes it good. Bluegrass cover albums aren’t usually groundbreaking. They are usually a way for an artist to pay tribute to a genre that moves them. Happy Prisoner does just that. By sticking mostly to the rule book (sure, some drums pop up here and there, but it’s still very tame considering he is an outsider to the genre) Robert Earl Keen created an album that is easy to listen to and very likeable. If you are a Robert Earl Keen fan, pick this album up. It shows off his talents in a unique and different way than what you are used to. If you are a bluegrass fan, pick this up. It’s always great to hear other renditions of the songs we love so much. If you are a music fan, pick this up. It is full of great arrangements of some of the greatest songs of all time by world class pickers. Basically, everyone needs to listen to Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions. This is what country music is all about.
Standout Tracks: “Footprints in the Snow”, “T For Texas” with Lyle Lovett, “Hot Corn, Cold Corn”, “52 Vincent Black Lightning”, “This World Is Not My Home”, “White Dove”, “Long Black Veil”, “Wayfaring Stranger” with Natalie Maines
"Hot Corn, Cold Corn"