Robert Earl Keen’s combination of coffeehouse erudition and beer-hall rowdiness is starting to feel a little confining–sort of like those small towns he likes to sing about–but for a couple of songs on his eighth album, Walking Distance (Arista), the Texan’s quill is still sharp enough to draw blood. His darkest narratives are the strongest: In “Carolina” a man pining for a lost lover hires a surrogate with terrible results (“I dreamed of a refuge, a red velvet world / And I swore my sweet Lily was one of the girls / I loved her so madly, I loved her so long / I woke with my dream girl but her life was all gone”), and in “New Life in Old Mexico” a man trying to escape one deadly mixup (“There was some confusion when my sweet wife left this world / Darker times, drunken crimes, a dead young working girl”) steps smack into the middle of another, killing an attacker who’s mistaken him for a marital interloper. None of the other stories are as dramatic; “Feelin’ Good Again,” about a night of drinking flooded by sweet memories, and “I’ll Be Here For You,” a shot of pure Hallmark sentimentality, are light as snowflakes and melt away just as fast. Keen also likes to yuck it up for the peanut gallery, and “That Buckin’ Song” in particular (“My mama said, ‘Son / That’s a mother buckin’ mare'”) seems custom written for the beer-swilling-good-ol’-boy contingent. Live, though, he’s likely to flesh out his set with harder-hitting songs from previous albums, and his crack band makes the most of his elegant folk melodies. Wednesday, 8:30 PM, FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.

Peter Margasak

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Wyatt McSpadden.