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Lloyd for Governor

Taking two Republicans to see a CHARLES LLOYD show is a risky venture. Once the tickets are paid for, their opinion of you is probably tacked onto their opinion of the show. Basically speaking, you start praying early and often that it's going to be good. After an immaculate and free drum intro from ERIC HARLAND and a textured tease of COLTRANE from Lloyd, that internal voice that was praying begins screaming: "Please, please, pick a key soon--the last concert they went to was in a church."

Luckily, at that point GERI ALLEN and LARRY GRENADIER dropped in and brought the group back down to earth--a position later derided by Lloyd: "I like to live in the music, man. Terra Firma, nah, it's not for me." Lloyd has clearly lived out in BIG SUR for a while.

With his beatnik hat and the permanent shades, Lloyd looks and plays the jazz cat part perfectly. His playing also indicates some serious musical spiritual introspection. Whether cascading down the diminished scale, leaping though some odd intervallic phrases or blurring the microtonal lines way up there in the altissimo, Lloyd has lived his entire life within the music. He's developed a musical vocabulary over the years that he applies to his songbook with statesmanlike restraint. His tunes are traditional in the sense that they have a form, but the directions taken by his band didn't show too much respect for traditional musical values.

Regardless, the visiting Republicans were open to the message, and went away into the night smiling with a new Charles Lloyd CD in their hands. It was one more connection made across a vast gulf by some really pretty tunes.

Keen for President

Texas has given much to the world. Unfortunately at this point in history, the rest of the world wants to give it back. It's a shame that KENNETH LAY and THE BUSHES get all the headlines. Lists of well-known Texans aren't usually topped by good Texans like WILLIE NELSON, BUDDY HOLLY and ROBERT EARL KEEN, but they should be.

Maybe it's because they aren't rich. Willie's been out of hock for a while but took quite a beating in the '80s; Buddy Holly has a permanent case of deceased, and Keen, despite having been born as the son of an oil executive, has spent his life writing songs and playing shows--honorable, but not particularly lucrative. The world is not fair, even if you are from the Lone Star State.

Keen is another member of that wholesome batch of traditional biographical songwriters who managed to avoid the de-twanging that Nashville went through in the late '80s. He gave the JOHNNY CASH one-finger salute to Music Row after repeated rebuffing in Music City and kept on strumming in Austin, writing amusing and introspective tunes about the human condition, the intoxicated condition and the last train out of the station.

Happily guilty of penning more than one road song and repeatedly using the phrase "Standing on Main Street" to kick off the first verse, Keen's songwriting is both traditional and radical in the same moment. I mean come on, would TOBY KEITH write a song about HANK WILLIAMS in drag?

Joined by a supremely crack batch of musicians, Keen's live show even outstrips his recorded offerings. First off, both the nonsinging guitarists got to stretch out. Keen's producer, ED CHERNEY, held down the regularly configured six-string, while MARTY MUSE served as the band's lap steel dog. The things that both of them did with their instruments were pretty damn impressive. PILATES masters are less agile then these two players. Playing off each other, as well as Keen's ironic delivery, they provided GEORGE HARRISON-like perfect solos, and hit more than enough distorted-to-all-hell open bass strings to keep the crowd at attention.

Speaking of the crowd, there was a healthy dose of excitement in the air. Not even the following joke could douse the spirits of this gathered assembly: "Have you been to that Afghan restaurant next door? They can Kabul a meal together."

This touring group was hands down one of the finer functioning units the Rio has hosted this year. The HAÏDOUKS weren't this tight on the harmonies. Even the bass player doubled on harmonica. Keen's done pretty well for a former journalism major, when he spent his days on the front porch hanging with dudes with weird hair named LYLE LOVETT. Like that's even a real name.

Peter Koht

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From the June 29-July 6, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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