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TOMMY KEENE has been making brilliantly written, recorded and performed guitar pop for, as the subtitle indicates, over a quarter of a century, and while it’s difficult to distill such a rich career into enough music for only two disks, Tommy Keene You Hear Me does a bang-up job. The collection draws from nearly every Keene LP, including the odds ‘n’ sods collection Driving and the live Showtunes, but omits anything from his first album Strange Alliance (which, as the liner notes point out, Keene “thinks is crap”). Presented in chronological order, the disks demonstrate not only what a great writer, singer and guitarist he was from the beginning, but also that the work in the second half of his career is easily equal of that in the more celebrated first half. Fanatics might quibble with the track selection, of course. The advantage of being an artist without any hits per se is that everyone can find their own favorites without having a radio station ramming one or two down your throat, and some of yours will undoubtedly be missing – indeed MATT HICKEY‘s notes gripe about songs he thought should make the cut but didn’t. (For the record, I’m scratching my head over the exclusion of “Einstein’s Day.”) But with an artist as almost frighteningly consistent as Keene, it’s hard to complain, as there’s not a bad track here. From his most well-known early gems (“Places That Are Gone,” “Back to Zero Now,” his celebrated cover of LOU REED‘s “Kill Your Sons”) to the cream of his most recent work (“Warren in the 60’s,” “Turning On Blue,” a cracking live “Long Time Missing”), the comp hits home run after home run after home friggin’ run.
Rarities are, well, scarce, but a cover of 20/20‘s “Leaving Your World Behind” and a stunning solo acoustic “Black and White New York” add some spice to an already satisfying meal. If I have any grievance, it’s that the booklet doesn’t identify the sources of the tracks, though with the chronological order and Google it’s easy enough to figure it out. Besides, the pure listening enjoyment on display here overrides such concerns. Groanworthy title pun aside, I can’t think of an artist anthology that’s given me more pleasure in the last couple of months than Tommy Keene You Hear Me.
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