Elburn-area musician Matt Keen, who until recently fronted the Southern rock band Rebel Soul Revival, is steering his musical life into new waters with the release of “Restless Days,” his debut solo album out Friday with a livestream performance.
The eight-song album captures Keen’s sound, consistently soulful and bluesy with just a hint of late-’90s alternative. But it’s also an introduction to his new approach to performing.
“I realized that I just can’t do the party scene music anymore. The rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle like that. … It’s tougher for me to do the 3 a.m. nights at bars,” Keen said. “There’s still plenty of rock in the record, but I’m just trying to take a definitive step toward professionalism. Something more tangible.”
The album’s second track, “If Looks Could Kill,” packs the raucous rock that followers of Keen’s music are used to. But the first song (and title track) starts things off on a more pensive note, showcasing his versatility and driving home his need to change things up. “I tried to drink up all of my life, but the walls were always shrinking. And the whiskey’s got me thinking about all the wasted time from back in my restless days.”
With a 9-month-old son at home and his wedding coming up later this year, Keen said he started playing more gigs at restaurants and bars — both solo and with a full band.
“This is kind of my attempt to have it be more about the music and the show,” he said. “It’s nice to get back to writing some really intentional lyrics, being a little bit more decisive and trying to make this step my best foot forward.”
Recorded over a two-day session with Seth Luloff through Chandler Limited in Shell Rock, Iowa, “Restless Days” was a new experience for Keen. Instead of bringing a full band into the studio, he sent cellphone recordings of the songs to the in-house professional musicians before he and longtime collaborator Evan Stock headed out there.
“On the spot, they were able to write their parts for the tunes as well as learn the songs,” he said. “It’s kind of nice to feel a little bit more like we have direction and I’m in control of that direction, a little bit more steering the ship. I find if you get too many opinions, you don’t really go anywhere, you know?”
Bringing to the album topics such as religion and homelessness along with his self-examination and looking ahead to the future, Keen’s excited about the new release.
“What I tried to do is a real ode to Southern and classic rock, still with like an edge and in a real aggressive way,” he said. “You’re going to go on a ride for the eight songs. I kind of tried to map it out like a roller coaster. … It’s very much still me. And I guess what I always thought was my favorite genre.”
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Matt Keen’s “Restless Days”
• The album is available for streaming on all major services Friday, April 3.
• In lieu of the scheduled release party, which was postponed by coronavirus, Keen will perform and discuss his new songs at 7 p.m. Friday, April 3, on facebook.com/mattkeenmusic.