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American Roulette

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Album Review

Released in 1977, two years after the brilliant So Long Harry Truman, American Roulette goes another step in developing Danny O'Keefe's mature pop style — displayed on the previous record by the amazing "Quits" and the title track — though there are still some roots tunes in the set as well. O'Keefe employed the cream-of-the-crop of session players in his systematic and gradual recording process. "Runaway," the opener, is a mirror image of "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues," written about a 14-year-old girl who leaves home after being beaten by her father. The observing narrator is not jaded this time, simply sad and bewildered. Driven by Reggie McBride's fretless bass, a slew of strings, and O'Keefe's guitar, the track is aesthetically beautiful and haunting, to contrast its dark subject matter. "Islands" is a hunted love song, with beautifully subtle guitar work by O'Keefe and Vince Melamed's electric piano. "On Discovering a Missing Person" is the next chapter of the saga that began with "Quits." Here, love emerges only to fail in the heated middle. "Hereafter" rocks it up with a stripped-down band playing an extended urban blues style. But what's illustrated in tunes like this one and "Plastic Saddle" is how far O'Keefe's come from executing these roots-derived songs with any real fire. It's like "you can't go home again." The dreamy, multi-part swirl of the title track has gorgeously layered strings (à la Gil Evans), electric and grand pianos, a bassline that instructs the band, and a casual backbeat making it all seem effortless; the silvery wisp that is "You Look Just Like a Girl Again," and the lamentable pop of "All My Friends" (with Mike Melvoin on piano) all point to the fact that O'Keefe's crossed into another land in his writing and in his singing. It's sophisticated — perhaps too much so for the time — soulful and precise. These songs have nothing whatsoever to do with country, rock, or any other of their derivations, and come more from Jimmy Webb, Harry Nilsson, and Randy Newman as contemporaries with a jaded perspective who view love from the tired, dark and mournful side. American Roulette is possessed of a magnificent poetic darkness that is marred only by its half-hearted attempts at engaging the past. It has recently been issued on CD by Wounded Bird, along with O'Keefe and Global Blues.To date, his best record, So Long Harry Truman remains inexplicably unissued in digital form


Born: 1943 in Spokane, WA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s

Most closely associated with his 1972 Top Ten entry "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues," singer/songwriter Danny O'Keefe was born and raised in Spokane, WA, beginning his performing career on the Minnesota coffeehouse circuit of the mid-'60s. Through Buffalo Springfield manager Charles Greene, he landed a telephone audition with Atlantic Records honcho Ahmet Ertegun, signing with the label's Cotillion imprint to issue his self-titled 1971 debut LP. The follow-up, 1972's O'Keefe, yielded his lone...
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American Roulette, Danny O'Keefe
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