Keen’s off-color Christ­mas


Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360 DAILY - D

“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

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.

TINA phan/amer­i­can-states­man

Gary Clark Jr. per­form­ing at the Austin City Lim­its Mu­sic Fes­ti­val.

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