One of the great pleasures of working in college radio is discovering monumentally talented songwriters and artists, and then claiming some sliver of their coolness by playing their songs on the radio. This was especially true in my personal era, back before sampling just about any existing track was a click or two anyway. It felt downright revolutionary to have a little bit of knowledge about a great performer, slipping their songs into a playlist. “You guys think Elvis Costello or Nick Lowe is cool? Well, just listen to this.”
I found Tommy Keene relatively early in my college radio tenure. The 1989 album Based on Happy Times arrived during my first year at the station, and it became a touchstone, the sort of record I routinely circled back to, finding a gem no matter no matter where I landed on the track listing. Eventually, I dug into what little back catalog we had in the library, notably Songs from the Film, which has enough lingering cachet that Keene was able to tour on it in recent years. Like the album I landed on first, every track was a winner.
There was something remarkably pure and lovely about Keene’s songwriting. There was some power pop around the edges, but it was mostly lean, perfectly realized songs about simply being. The songs felt specific and universal all at once. And they had sterling hooks that Keene played with sharp, unfussy musicianship. For as much time as I spend championing dense musical soundscapes from modern artists, listening to Keene reminds me that there’s a special artistry to more direct rock songwriting, songs that make their points in three minutes and then fade out in chiming assurance.
Plain and simple, Tommy Keene was one of the greats.
Listen or download –> Tommy Keene, “In Our Lives”
(Disclaimer: Honestly, I haven’t done my usual due diligence to see if Keene’s Songs from the Film is in print as a physical object that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said store and the original artist. I wanted to share this today, regardless. I don’t mean to impede commerce, but instead to encourage it. Head out and buy every Keene album you see. I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)