When people think of “heartland rock and roll,” the likes of Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Bob Seger probably come to mind. Keeton Coffman, however, initially thought he had coined the term.
Fortunately, the Houston-based singer-songwriter has found himself in good company, having unintentionally likened his music to that of a number of renowned musicians. And he is perfectly comfortable with the comparisons.
“My songs tend to be set in the open country, on the open road, and while there are a lot of dynamics in the tunes, [they] never feel super-aggressive,” says Coffman, whose new album, Killer Eyes, was released last week. “At the heart of the music are songs you can dance to, slow and fast — songs about romance.”
But not just any kind of romance, he says. Coffman's songs depict a kind of romance that takes decades to nurture. It’s the kind of old-school, storybook love that brings to mind an old couple sitting on the porch, resting their heads on each other with their fingers intertwined.
“I’m trying to take people on a journey,” Coffman says, “to pick them up at the beginning of the tune, and by the end, leave them somewhere new. Or return them to somewhere they once remembered.”
The objective of his concerts is the same — Coffman wants to provide fans with an escape, one that they can sing and dance along to for an hour or so. But despite their noble intentions, Coffman’s tunes do not possess any “fancy.” By Coffman’s own account, he bangs on guitars and pianos alike, creating a pub-like style of rock and roll that just so happens to be performed with old-school instruments.
Born in Bryan, Texas, Coffman fondly recalls the small-town feel of his childhood home and incorporates that sense of adventurous youth into his music.
“I can remember it was big-time when we got an Olive Garden,” he says of his hometown. “There was only one movie theater worth going to, and it only had three screens.
“So we drove around a lot listening to the radio, without really going anywhere,” Coffman says. “I guess that’s an element I try to put in this music and in these songs. There’s time for contemplation — to breathe, to think.”
Before pursuing a solo career, Coffman performed with The 71’s, a beloved local outfit that disbanded as its members’ priorities changed. The group has maintained its friendships, however, and former bandmate Ryan Cecil even produced and mixed Killer Eyes.
“Ryan’s and my relationship now is really just the natural evolution of The 71’s,” Coffman says of working with his old bandmate. “He did so many of the same things for me then as he does now.
“After the band broke up, our friendship was in a strange place, because in a way I think I felt like I let him down," Coffman continues. "We knew the band was coming to a close, and we knew that he and I would keep going…But it took a couple years really of working separately to realize how to be for each other what we wanted to be.
“There’s no question in my mind that Ryan and I will always make music together," he concludes.
And there’s no reason for them to stop, if Killer Eyes is any indication. Coffman’s latest offering is polished, genuine and altogether uplifting. It’s the kind of album that will put a smile on listeners’ faces as they drive around town, and it will be a perfect soundtrack to upcoming road trips.
“I spent my whole life in Texas,” Coffman says. “And to me, the music sounds just like that.”
Keeton Coffman officially releases Killer Eyes 8:30 p.m. tonight at Dosey Doe Music Cafe, with special guest Jana Gilmore.
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