You know you’re a Robert Earl Keen fan if you hear the name "Copenhagen" and think of a brand of snuff popular among rodeo riders rather than the capital of Denmark. Outside Texas and a few pockets of Texans-in-exile, Keen’s profile is so low that even radio’s Don Imus, patron of Delbert McClinton and friend of Kinky Friedman, drew a blank when his name came up.
Gravitational Forces may not change that: the bizness is too stubborn to accept him, and Keen is too stubborn to change, thank goodness. He opens his Lost Highway debut — his, like, ninth album — with Joe Dolce’s "My Home Ain’t in the Hall of Fame," a candid, defiant recognition of his stature. The few other covers — Johnny Cash’s very early (1958) "I Still Miss Someone" and Townes Van Zandt’s "Snowin’ on Raton" among them — are picked to fit as much as they are fit to pick. Keen’s own songs — short narratives more than easy rhymes — might hit you right between the eyes ("Wild Wind") or knock you over from left field ("Goin’ Nowhere Blues," the only song I’ve heard that invokes Langston Hughes and César Chávez). "The Road Goes On Forever," the disc’s long clincher, is part Springsteenian morality tale circa Nebraska and part Lone Star jamboree. In other words, primo Keen: not a wasted word, not a needless note, not a spirit unstirred.