On one song from his upcoming bluegrass-inspired album ‘Happy Prisoner,’ Robert Earl Keen travels a more solemn road than the one he usually cruises down towards forever.
Keen covers the classic 19th century folk/gospel number ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, which with beautiful deft documents a plaintive soul’s journey across life’s path rife with temptation and tribulation. All the while comforted by resolved faith.
‘Wayfaring Stranger’ is one of those songs that has been covered and changed over the centuries. Recent notable versions are by Emmylou Harris on her 1980 album ‘Roses in the Snow’, Johnny Cash on his ‘American III : Solitary Man’ album in 2000 and Neil Young on his 2012 album ‘Americana.’
Keen reflects the songs austere origin and context by using his West Texas drawl to deliver the song adorned only by Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines on lovely restrained harmony. Their voices meld to a high lonesome chorus that captures the origin of country music that the song exemplifies.
Hear the song below.
Maines appeared by request of the album’s producer, the legendary pedal steel player Lloyd Maines, who happens to be her dad. Her sorely missed vocals on this cut will lead fans (like me) to crank up the Chicks’ “Home” and hope for a new more Americana-focused release from the band.
But the talent doesn’t stop with the vocals.
Guest instrumentalists Danny Barnes on banjo and Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins on fiddle lends a fittingly sparse accompaniment.
Keen says of the track “I’ve always had an affinity for music that I felt you could listen to in your living room,” he said. “My mom liked the old hillbilly stuff, and my whole education in music started with bluegrass. I’ve been listening to it forever, I love it, and so I feel like I’m something of a happy prisoner of it.”
‘Happy Prisoner’, is out February 10th. It will include guest vocals from not only Maines but Peter Rowan and Keen’s buddy from Texas A&M Lyle Lovett. as mentioned, Lloyd Maines, produced the album in Dripping Springs, Texas.