Keene Brothers: Blues and Boogie Shoes

Keene Brothers
Blues and Boogie Shoes

While longtime Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard and singer-songwriter Tommy Keene now pool their Who-worship and pop craftsmanship in Pollard's touring band and on record as the Keene Brothers, the two men spent the '80s traveling very different paths. While Pollard woodshedded in Ohioan obscurity, Keene was a mishandled contract player in a dramatic tussle with Geffen Records. But turmoil is largely absent from the melodies on Blues and Boogie Shoes (which is the 42nd release in Pollard's Fading Captain Series), replaced by a springy optimism reminiscent of the sweeter moments on Robyn Hitchcock's Fegmania!, and even kudzu-and-mumbling-era R.E.M.

Keene's distinctive, mannered lead vocals are absent from this disc, but he contributes such lively, soulful guitar playing, you barely miss them. His delicate, rhythmic fills are as tasteful and robust as his carefully thought-out solos, and not one note is at the expense of the song. Pollard's lyrics, if still not outright narrative, skew less oblique on this album. "Heaven's Gate" is a cynical bird's-eye view of the infamous cult's demise, and it's strange, yet kind of refreshing, to hear him actually lock horns with the outside world: "You must engage/Use all your rage." I'm probably loading more import onto the lyrics of "That's the Beauty of the Draft" than its sketchy frame can hold, but I'm hoping that lines like "Poles are reversed/The last will go first" are a positive portent for this collaboration rather than a statement of resignation.