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Tommy Keene - Crashing the Ether

Released on Eleven Thirty, 4/4/06

Tommy Keene debuted auspiciously in 1984 with a six track EP, Places That Are Gone. This album has been described as blatantly romantic, unapologetically melodic, bittersweet, but absolutely invigorating. Not bad for a debut. Known as a consummate songwriter and a guitarist on par with Pete Townshend, it's surprising that Keene has never quite managed to capture a larger audience. Crashing the Ether is Keene's first studio album since 2002 and it's an effort that certainly has the potential to capture that elusive larger audience.

Many of the adjectives used in describing Keene's debut EP can be used in describing Crashing the Ether. There isn't one track in the bunch that won't have you contemplating, reflecting, or tapping your foot. Keene infuses virtually every track with booming drums and catchy guitar hooks. Admittedly, many of the tracks sound similar, but each one is solidly crafted.

Beyond the deft combination of guitar and drums, Keene's lyrics are filled with an unquestionable earnestness and authenticity. Keene waxes nostalgic about his time spent in New York while gazing at a black and white picture of New York in the appropriately titled "Black & White New York". Keene's clever lyricism extends to his ode to Warren Beatty, again appropriately titled "Warren in the 60s".

This solid song craftsmanship is largely due to the approach Keene used in assembling the album. Keene's approach was reminiscent of the approach used by Prince in creating music (aka - the artist formerly known as "The Artist Formerly Known As"). It was somewhat organic in nature with collaborators dropping by Keene's home studio in LA periodically to contribute. Not having to book studio time, Tommy was free to do as many takes as he wanted, to overdub guitars, and be as creative as he wanted.

Crashing the Ether is unquestionably a "power pop" album that at times sounds vaguely like The Who, Elvis Costello, with a little psychedelia thrown in for good measure. Keene has grudgingly come to embrace the "power pop" label that has often been bandied about in describing his work. This is a good thing as Crashing the Ether contains some of the best power pop heard in quite some time.

It's hard to believe that Tommy Keene has been crafting quality music for well over two decades and has yet to capture a larger audience. Having collaborated with Velvet Crush, Paul Westerberg, and most recently, Robert Pollard (from Guided by Voices), it's evident Tommy Keene has the chops. With any luck, Crashing the Ether will provide a catalyst for Tommy to crash into a larger market.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars