Keen’s off-color Christmas
“When I recorded it, we were laughing about it, kind of working out how we were going to play it, and everybody got out their bells and whistles and in the little music spaces between things, they start referencing other Christmas songs,” he said. “I said ‘no, no, no, it’s not like that. Think of it this way, you wake up Christmas morning, you have the biggest hangover you’ve ever had in your life and you look around and the whole place is like a bomb went off, a complete mess, and you’re just trying to take your next breath, this is how this song has got to feel.’ ”
When he started performing “Merry Christmas From the Family,” the song connected with audiences (and still does). Keen said that part of the appeal is the song’s slow pace, which allows people to get the lyrics. “I’ve had a few songs that were immediate hits, but I’ve never had a real song on commercial radio, so I don’t know what that feels like,” he said. “People who haven’t heard the song will sing the chorus when it comes up the second time.”
Keen wrote a followup song, “Happy Holidays Y’all,” which would appear as a bonus track on 1998’s “Walking Distance.” He said that he was never really too happy about that one, however, as he wrote it in part as a gesture to his label at the time.
The original, though, he still feels good about. “I didn’t write it so that everybody would love it, I wrote it just for me and it happened to work out that way,” Keen said. “Overall, I really try to write all the songs that way — they work for me, they sound good, they have some kind of honest meaning for myself, and then I can play them.”
Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas From the Fam-O-Lee” show happens Dec. 22 at ACL Live with performances from Keen, Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines. More info at acl-live.com.
Gary Clark Jr. gets his moment. “I’ve been wanting to do this for like 16 years,” said Gary Clark Jr., looking out over an excited audience Friday night at ACL Live for a taping of KLRU’s “Austin City Limits.”
The moment was powerful — the Austin guitar player on the ffnal stretch of a year that saw him prominently billed at every major festival, including two sets at JayZ’s Made In America fest and a huge afternoon appearance on the ffnal day of the Austin City Limits Music Fest.
Clark took one more opportunity on Friday to get the word out about his skills to people who haven’t heard him yet. Right from the start, with “When My Train Pulls In,” he seemed determined, staring out into the crowd before launching into a searing solo.
Then it was on to “Don’t Owe You a Thing.” One thing that critics, musicians and fans say often about Clark is that his style is incredibly versatile. Here, he used quiet moments to create tension. He gave “If Trouble Was Money” a shot of noise and brought out a horn section on “Ain’t Messin’ Round.” He achieved liftoff with “Third Stone From the Sun” into “If You Love Me Like You Say” back into “Third Stone.” Also, he can make his guitar sound like he’s scratching a turntable. And he’s a great singer. “Numb” thundered; he eased into “Bright Lights.”
He returned alone for an encore of “Next Door Neighbor” before bringing the rest of the band back out for “You Saved Me” (which fflled the room with a hazy soul sound similar to My Morning Jacket) and ffnally a bouncy version of Albert King’s “Oh Pretty Woman” to ffnish the night and an amazing year for Clark.
Clark’s performance will air in January on KLRU.
Gary Clark Jr. performing at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.