In the Late Bright – Tommy Keene

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By Anthony Mark Happel

Tommy Keene is the definition of a survivor. Beginning with his masterful 1984 EP, Places That Are Gone, he’s been slogging away in the mire of the fringes of the music industry for 25 years without ever really enjoying any kind of mainstream popular support, despite loads of worthless critical acclaim.

In 1986 he signed with Geffen Records and released an album entitled Songs From The Film, which briefly put him on the college-radio map. A short time later he appeared (for fifteen seconds) in the Anthony Michael Hall vehicle, Out Of Bounds, along with his song, “Run Now.” He also “enjoyed” a brief stint in the 90s on indie giant Matador Records, for what it’s worth, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts if you polled a hundred people on the streets of your town at random you would be lucky to find one person that knows who he is, and could actually name one of his songs.

That fact belies the keen persistence of his smart power-pop. Sorry about the pun. His work has always been both artful and laden huge commercial potential, but without the one song that soars into the stratosphere of the public consciousness the public will likely never catch up.

ITLB is his eighth album, and it can stand proudly alongside any of his previous records with its head held high. “Save This Harmony” is a fine example of the dichotomy of his brand of sullen and heartfelt power-pop that deserves to be in heavy rotation on any decent new rock radio station. And “Tomorrow’s Gone Tonight” is another of the slinky cinematic wonders he seems to crank out so effortlessly.

Numerous musicians have sung his praises, including Guided By Voice’s Robert Pollard, with whom he has recorded and toured as part of a band called The Ascended Masters, as well as The Keene Brothers. That is surely a musical match made of somewhat disparate souls in songwriter’s heaven. In 2008 he joined forces with Pollard once again as a member of Boston Spaceships. With that project getting some mainstream exposure and this album making a small dent in the indie press, Keene will, hopefully, continue to create songs from his heart, despite the collective indifference and insipidity of the American public. Look for re-issues of some of his back catalog later in ’09. Rock on, indeed.