BY STEVE PICK
“I’m in love with rock’n’roll and I’ll be out all night.” Tommy Keene doesn’t perform Jonathan Richman’s classic “Roadrunner” on Excitement At Your Feet, but its spirit informs the project. Keene knows the rush of turning on the stereo and hearing that perfect incarnation of free spirited, thrilling rides into the great unknown. From the beginning of his career, Keene has been a rock’n’roll romantic, a purveyor of big, fat guitar-driven, richly evocative songcraft. It was always clear that he was a devotee of the music that came before him, and here, he pays tribute to some of the least obvious yet deliriously perfect songs that shaped his life.
Obvious influences such as Big Star, the Who, and the Flamin’ Groovies are shared with the types of artists which in retrospect make perfect sense as fitting with his sensibility – Television, Mink DeVille, and Roxy Music. There are also surprises, songs by the Bee Gees, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Donovan, styles he’s kept in his back pocket for all these years.
There are serious music fans of a certain age who are likely to recognize every single song on this collection, though he digs deep into the catalog of even the most mainstream artists. Even the Rolling Stones song, “Ride On Baby,” hails from their first tossed off collection of left-overs, Flowers. Keene’s deliriously upbeat take on this reminds us that this deserves to be ranked as one of the early Stones’ best songs. Similarly, “Much Too Much” has been hidden away in plain sight on the Who’s debut album The Who Sing My Generation for all these years, and Keene tears into one of Pete Townshend’s most nutritious nuggets.
But most of us will know some songs while discovering some gems from bands we don’t know as well as we should. For me, the greatest such learning experience is “Let Me Dream If I Want To,” originally done by Mink DeVille, a sharply etched, seriously hard-driving, and ridiculously catchy nugget that makes a great case for the New York rocker being the most under-rated of all the original CBGB’s bands.
As long as we’re talking about the late ‘70s East Coast scene, I might as well point out here that the album’s absolute highlight is Keene’s take on Television’s “Guiding Light.” Keene adds a snarl to the way he sings this that’s only implied by Tom Verlaine’s original, and his guitar playing matches the original performances by Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, while never losing his own distinctive tone. It’s beautiful and immensely moving, a version true to the masterful Marquee Moon cut, yet somehow fresh and original.
There is neither a bad song nor a wrong turn taken on this record. Tommy Keene’s record collection is clearly impeccable, and more, he has obviously spent a lot of time in his life listening to and inhabiting these songs. As a result, this set of material he hasn’t wrote sounds as personal and as full of passion as anything Keene has released in his career.
DOWNLOAD: “Guiding Light,” “Nighttime,” “Let Me Dream If I Want To,” “The Puppet”
Full disclosure: Blurt and Second Motion Records are owned by the same company. Luckily that doesn’t prevent us from thinking that Tommy Keene is one of America’s greatest rockers, period. – Ed.