Tommy Keene

Based On Happy Times (Geffen ‘89) Rating A-
Tommy Keene is one of those guys who should be much better known, though he is highly regarded by critics and a small group of fans (for example, a used copy of this out-of-print cd is currently selling for $99 on amazon.com). I’d always heard good things about him, and right away I was surprised by this album being more straight rock ‘n’ roll than the “power pop” I was expecting, though the jangly guitars commonly associated with that subgenre do appear on stellar songs such as “When Our Vows Break,” “Highwire Days,” and “If We Run Away.” Elsewhere, harder rocking songs such as “Nothing Can Change You,” “Light Of Love,” and “Our Car Club” (a rather obnoxious Beach Boys cover) recall bands such as The Replacements and Soul Asylum, while Keene’s not particularly pretty yet effective nasal vocals (which bring Tom Petty to mind) are especially affecting on mellow, moodier songs such as “Based On Happy Times” and “A Way Out.” Keene isn’t above unleashing a guitar solo if it serves the song, and most of these tracks are memorable and catchy (if not immediately so), with intelligent relationship-based lyrics that veer towards the bittersweet (example: “all you’ve got to say is hanging on to yesterday”). Perhaps Keene wouldn’t win many points for originality, and there are a few merely solid songs on side 2 (“Our Car Club,” “Where Have All Your Friends Gone,” “Pictures”), but overall this is a really good rock ‘n’ roll record that makes me want to hear more from Mr. Keene.

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