Tommy Keene – Behind the Parade (review)

Tommy Keene – Behind the Parade (Second Motion Records) CD review 

Most reviews about Tommy Keene usually start with some exclamation about how the particular writer is baffled by the artist’s lack of commercial success; how after all this time, he should be a household name and a fixture on any good music fan’s Ipod.  Sure, it’s a head scratcher, but let’s concentrate on the things he has accomplished in his over 30-year career – releasing 15 critically-acclaimed albums, and every one of them, consistent as hell.  Behind the Parade is yet another example of Keene’s excellent, melodic songwriting – full of tunes with chiming choruses, big drums, and excellent guitar fills.

There’s also something about this new record that feels more energetic than his previous records.  Keene has had legendary squabbles with producers, label execs and A&R guys, who all thought they knew what was best for his career.  Now, most of those same guys are out of work, and Keene is making some of the best music of his career.  And finally, the only person he has to answer to is himself.  As the inside cover photo shows, this album was recorded primarily at home – and yet, the sound he gets is as good, if not better, than all those big shot studios he recorded in throughout the years.

The disc opens with “Deep Six Saturday,” featuring a repetitive guitar lick and a surprising trumpet solo.  There’s a hilarious video to go with it, which is definitely worth a look (watch it here).  Keene knows how to keep things interesting, inserting double-time drumming at the tail end of the crunching “Behind the Parade.”  The one thing that has changed over the years is Keene’s guitar work – he’s really become a great player – just give a listen to the close of “Parade.”  “Nowhere Drag” is classic Keene, with a jangly guitar intro that recalls many of the great songs off his Places That Are Gone EP.  The one departure is “La Castana,” a five minute moody instrumental played entirely on vintage keyboards.  The album closes with “Lies In My Heart,” a track that he wrote in the late Eighties but never recorded, and was lost until an online fan sent him a copy of a live performance from years ago.

Keene played a lot of the instruments himself on the album, but enlisted the services of veteran drummer Rob Brill, who lays down some of the meatiest percussion ever put on a Tommy Keene album, and bassist Brad Quinn, who’s been a part of his band for years.

The thing is, Tommy Keene has got access to the same guitar chords that everyone else does – it’s just that he’s better at assembling them into catchy songs than anyone else.  Behind the Parade shows that, even after 30 years of making music, Tommy Keene still has it.   –Tony Peters