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Keene Brothers - Blues and Boogie Shoes (Fading Captain Series)

3 June 2006

KEENE BROTHERS’ Blues and Boogie Shoes is not the most exciting of the three new albums ROBERT POLLARD released in May (that would be the compact, imaginative Turn to Red by THE TAKEOVERS), and it’s not the most eccentric (that’s definitely PSYCHO AND THE BIRDS’ All That Is Holy), but it is the most interesting, and perhaps ultimately the most rewarding.

Pollard and TOMMY KEENE—the ‘brothers’ behind the album—don’t seem like they’d be likely candidates for a collaboration, yet their music certainly has connecting points, particularly each one’s knack for pure pop melody. The success of this album comes from them finding that point of connection, and following it. The resulting work seems unique in the discographies of both musicians, taking them in a direction that’s somewhat new for them, though not necessarily for music history.

“Maybe it’s not so bad,” Pollard sings on one song (“This Time Do You Feel It?”), and those words encapsulate the general tone of the album—hope with a touch of melancholy. Even though the album opens with a big, vigorous pop-rock anthem with a great hook, “Evil vs. Evil,” and there are some rather standard bar-band guitar riffs and solos here and there, the general direction of the album is favors soft but strident ballads.

Pollard wrote a doozy of a power ballad back in 1999, GUIDED BY VOICES’ “Hold on Hope,” and has been publicly regretting it ever since. Blues and Boogie Shoes sounds like he’s come to terms with that side of his songwriting, and refined it so that most of the songs resemble less-literal, more-ambiguous versions of a “Hold on Hope”-style ballad. And that’s a beautiful thing, as both Pollard and Keene have, erm, keen melodic senses, and when Pollard embraces both the surrealist and the emotional sides of his songs, he tends to create his best works. Thist isn’t his best, but it’s quite rewarding.

Blues and Boogie Shoes is one of the least straightforward albums Keene has made, and is easily the most straightforward, bordering-on-conventional, album that Pollard has ever made. It’s this balancing act that has led to a certain type of magic—not groundbreaking, but truly satisfying.

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