Music-wise, "Ameri-cana" is the word of the summer. As much as I love America—I've already planted a crisis garden and purchased several gold doubloons—to me, "Americana" suggests a generic mish-mash of watered down parts, the sum of which only adds up to "Ameri."
On The Rose Hotel, Robert Earl Keen captures the good and the "whatevs" of this purported genre. The good: Keen's spiffy tribute to Levon Helm on "The Man Behind the Drums" sports a catchy sway-along chorus and dope-as-all-get-out banjo playing, which is outstanding throughout. The high point is Greg Brown's "Laughing River," a duet featuring Brown's low warble that exists solely to make me sad and, here, Keen's vocal rasp matches Brown's morosity.
The whatevs: "10,000 Chinese Walk into a Bar," a joke song about jokes. Like most jokes, once you hear the punch line interest wanes. No worries, Keen keeps 'em comin'. On "Wireless in Heaven" he asks for a "mocha latte ginger jasmine tea" and wonders, "Is there wireless in heaven? Do I need a password to log in when I go?" Who doesn't love Starbuck's and Internet jokes in 2010?
I checked out of the Rose Hotel now and again, but the comfortable beds and banjos brought me back.
Robert Earl Keen plays the River City Roots Festival on West Main Street Saturday, Aug. 28, at 8:30 PM. Free.