Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N’ Roll

From “The Aquarian,” February 18, 2020

Native New Yorker Steven Keene has scaled the top of the mountain only to fall back down, dust himself off, and climb anew. Twenty-five years ago, his sophomore release, No Alternative, pretty much encapsulated his mindset. Recorded with numerous Dylan cohorts, the “Only Homeless” single made him big in Europe for five minutes. Six years later, his Set Clock featured a tune called “She Poured Gasoline” that certainly set him apart from his fellow folkies, adding a Tom Waits/Leonard Cohen vibe which he has since cultivated on his new It Is What It Is (ONErpm Records) which now boasts “Don’t Blame It On The Alcohol” as the tune most likely to pop. I prefer “Far Better Friend Than Lover” or “She Used Me I Used Her.” Opening with “Can’t See It When You’re In It,” Keene gets right to the heart of matters whether he’s singing about booze or regret or both within the same song. He produced it himself down the shore in Long Branch with a bevy of sounds like mandolin, pedal steel, and keyboards in obeyance to his idiosyncratic vocals, imbued with lust, wisdom, and ever-searching curiosity.