Miranda Lambert would be the first to admit her career in country music sounds like something straight out of a fairytale factory: Once upon a time, a teenage singer/songwriter from small-town Lindale, Texas, auditioned for a TV show called Nashville Star, the country-music version of American Idol. She bombed with her first audition, but tried again, sang the iconic Willie Nelson composition Crazy, and nailed it. Lambert reached only third place on the show, but that was fine with her. She already had a career playing Texas honky-tonks. Nonetheless, Sony Music Nashville soon came calling.
One of the first things you notice about Robert Earl Keen is that he talks the way he writes. The balladeer—whose iconic song “The Road Goes On Forever” marks its 20th anniversary this year—is sitting under a tree outside The Zone recording studio in Dripping Springs, some 100 miles east of his home near Kerrville. The wind’s whipping, the sun’s shining, and he’s reflecting on life, how good it is, and about the good, big year he’s living. As he talks, he spins yarns in his innately cadenced way, unfurling narrative as he goes.