Robert Earl Keen, “Footprints in the Snow” from Happy Prisoner (2015): One Track Mind

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Master backroads storyteller Robert Earl Keen returns to his roots with a suitably plucky cover of Bill Monroe’s “Footprints in the Snow.” After so many narrative journeys, so many trips deep into the psyche of hard-working wayfarers, there’s no small joy in hearing Keen let loose a little.

This is front-porch music, the kind of thing that used to emanate from rocking chairs atop prairie hills after a home-cooked meal. But different. Robert Earl Keen remembers those days, but shows no overweening allegiance to them. Homespun rather than high lonesome, “Footprints in the Snow” finds Keen sprinkling some Texas bluebonnets all over, but without ever going so far afield as to render the old Bill Monroe favorite unrecognizable.

In other words, this the best kind of cover song — timeless but personal.

Robert Earl Keen references that life-long relationship with bluegrass, in fact, on the forthcoming album which “Footprints in the Snow” advances. He’s calling it Happy Prisoner, in honor of his own inability and then unwillingness to shake those earliest influences. Due on February 10, 2015 via Dualtone, Happy Prisoner was produced by long-time collaborator Lloyd Maines and features 15 beloved songs from the likes of Flatt and Scruggs, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, among others.

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