August 18, 1997 12:00 PM

Robert Earl Keen

A Texas kid just out of high school drives to the Willie Nelson Fourth of July picnic and concert in 1974, and somehow the car catches fire in the parking lot. A generation later, songwriter Robert Earl Keen’s new CD bears a photo of that car in flames on a day that aptly sums up this album: lots of good music and a world of trouble. Keen crafts songs that fall somewhere between rock and country, with lyrics that land squarely in the bleak western terrain of unlimited horizons and hemmed-in dreams. Love is elusive (“Over the Waterfall” cascades with sadness), and life can be desperate (the story of a botched cattle-rustling colors “Shades of Gray”), but Keen’s deadpan sense of humor keeps the ants out of this Picnic. (Arista Austin)

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