Often miscast as just another Texas beer-joint pied piper, Robert Earl Keen is really much more of a thinking man's chronicler of the scruffy life.

Often miscast as just another Texas beer-joint pied piper, Robert Earl Keen is really much more of a thinking man's chronicler of the scruffy life. And if this earthy, organic collection is any indication, Keen has found his zone on Audium. The Arizona heat is palpable on the Prine-esque "Furnace Fan," and Keen evokes color and substance on "All I Have Today," with its references to sapphire canyons and shiny wood and steel. He gets unexpectedly funky at times, too ("Floppy Shows"). Keen is at his storytelling best with the finely drawn "Let the Music Play." While "Beats the Devil" rocks nicely, Keen, as always, is loudest when quietest, like on the world-weary "These Years" and the superb "Famous Words." Bandmate Rich Brotherton's production is perfect. Keen has delivered one of the best records of his career.—RW