Over the years Philadelphia’s Paul Keen has seen his fair share of moderate successes. These successes were achieved by Keen and his band Pawnshop Roses. Pawnshop Roses beat out one hundred thousand submissions to win the YouTube Underground Contest in 2006 as the Best Live Band, and appeared on the morning news show Good Morning America to accept the award. Pawnshop Roses also had a song "All The Way Down" appear on an episode of MTV's The Real World in 2008.
But that was then and this is now, and Paul Keen has just released his first solo record What I'm Under, twelve tracks of alt country and blues soaked Americana reminiscent of bands such as Uncle Tupelo and A.M. era Wilco. What I’m Under ‘s twelve tracks are at times tales of funny sorrow with lines like “Sometimes i feel like giving up, and i think of 9-5 and i say "fuck"/ And everybody thinks that we're a bunch of drunken slobs/ But if everyone stopped drinking, the town of Milwaukee'd be out of jobs /So I’ll crack another High Life/have a bite to eat and feed my dogs,” which comes from the campfire-guitar strummed “Ballad Of A Self-Destructive Sucker.”
Not every song on What I’m Under is a tongue and cheek country ballad. Take the blues folk fusion of “Lean on Love” with its rockabilly guitar riffs and Keen’s powerful throat scratched screech vocals. Then there’s the beautifully composed “Don't Let Your Heart Be A Wall” with its sing along chorus and rippling piano, which has a string section that further adds to its beauty. Another track which also serves to illustrate the range of Keen’s ability to write catchy country tunes is the albums closer “Pick Another Part,” which sounds like a well-controlled jam session of crystal acoustic guitar chords and head bobbing melodies which are born by the rumbling and rambling of the electric piano.
Much of the credit for the superb production quality of What I’m Under should be given to Pete Donnelly who both produced and engineered the album, as well as playing on many of the tracks. Donnelly is probably best known as the founding member of the well-known rock band The Figgs and has also played with Soul Asylum as well as with The Replacements Tommy Stinson.
There is another line from “Ballad Of A Self-Destructive Sucker” in which Keen laments that he has given up on becoming a “rock star” which is probably never going to happen with an album full of songs the kind of which are found on What I’m Under. They’re not necessarily meant for the mainstream, but for people who truly love good music, no matter what genre it may be.
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