The Last Laugh

by Ben Keyes

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    CD in a 4-panel jacket. Photography by Paul Reuter and cover design by Adam Kurihara.

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The Last Laugh is an album of twelve songs. While it is for grown-ups, it never could have been conceived without the insights and interruptions of my children. Observing them and their responses to what is beautiful and what is nasty in the world has been a source of new vision for me as a father and a songwriter. Musically, it is an American roots album, drawing from country, old-time, gospel and blues traditions. Each of these genres has in some way shaped how I play and write and they each find a voice on the album.


released October 11, 2013

Ben Keyes: lead and background vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, tenor banjo, mandolin, ukulele, electric bazouki, piano, toy piano, foot-pump organ, harmonica, recorders, tambourine and triangle
Kimon Kirk: bass guitars, upright bass, background vocals on tracks 3 and 11.
Billy Beard: drums and percussion
Dietrich Strause: trumpets on tracks 5 and 11, valve trombone on track 10

All tracks recorded at Dimension Sound Studios, Jamaica Plain, MA
Produced by Kimon Kirk, Ben Keyes
Recording engineer: Matt Malikowski
Mixed by Brad Jones at Alex the Great
Mastered by Jim DeMain at Yes Master Studios

Graphic design: Adam Kurihara
Photography: Paul Reuter



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Ben Keyes Southborough, Massachusetts

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Track Name: New Ones
When I was a child
And the whole world was enchanted
A mad magician haunted all my dreams
But then the magic was dispelled
I’m rid of ghosts, rid of hell
And mad scientists tell me magic isn’t real,
but I wake screaming still.

I need new ones
New ones clawing at my door
I need new ones
New ones sawing up through my floor

Ever since I was a boy
I’ve known there was an awful choice
Between a heart that’s dead and one that bleeds
But heart strings tugged me ‘long a branch
Trusting ev’ry shaky inch
And snap, the ground came rushing up at me.

I been told that for my health
gotta dig down deep inside myself
and wonder at and worship what I find.
But the best those gods can ever do
Is make all of your dreams come true
Just the ones that occur to you… in your mind

I need new ones
New ones clawing at my door
I need new ones
New gods sawing up through my floor.
Track Name: The Real Hillbilly
Went down the mountain with a new song
A man in the valley records them
But the line at the mic was a half mile long
It doesn’t matter,
the best music stays at home.

A little tune went buzzin’ by my porch swing
The fiddle it just reached out and grabbed it
Now folks in the city and suburbs can sing
Like its coursing through their veins,
They’re claiming a long lost friend

I’ve ridden the rails in a soft sleeper car
I’ve raised hell at well-to-do prep schools
drank a little of the best at respectable bars
that doesn’t matter,
The privileged life can be hard

Now I’ve tried to add mine to the long list of love songs
But I walked into love, never fell.
And I’ve tried my hand at the old murder ballad
But my loved one’s are all doing well… pretty well.

I’ve sung about the mountains but the lowlands are home
born 85 years late.
Never rambled or gambled but stayed in my room
Where the homework all got done
And the songs never strayed from home
Track Name: The Possessed
The wood fire it warms me from the outside in
The whiskey it warms me from the inside out
But there’s a sheet of ice inside that’s paper thin
All the years, all the booze and beer
Has never yet thawed out.

Lord have mercy on my lonely
Lonely crowded soul, bursting to be full
On my bursting soul, breaking to be whole

I’ve got a burning lust to take offense
I’ve got come backs to insults I have not received
Have not come from the ones that I love
But I win each time with a killing line
Against a foe who is not there.

I’m cursed to be a brand new man every day
Forgetting what I might have learned from my mistakes
And the demons that fill me have their own highway
Up from the ground
Going up and down
And all around my brain.
Track Name: Like A Child
I am like a child still
Getting into everything
Hate to hear that something bad is for my good.

I will throw my toys around
Throw tantrums when they can’t be found
Can’t be trusted but I might be loved.

There’s a box tissue by my head when I lay down
The covers that I fight for every night when you’re in town
Are overwhelming me
I’m pharaoh in the sea.

Everyday I see this bottle waiting on the shelf
Is it too good for me to sit and finish by myself?
Or is it too good to share?
Would you even care?

When its just my mind and I the conversation’s stale.
No one to come to your defense but me and when I fail,
forgiven hurts survive,
Dead arguments revive.

The tether you attach to me;
The anchor of your charity.
If drifting’s what it means to be free,
I’ve had enough.
Track Name: The Last Laugh
If it wasn’t for you,
we might sleep through the night
But there’d be no joy in the morning
No joy in the morning light.

When you couldn’t hold your head up
When you couldn’t look around
Had a dream of you at the table
Swinging feet could touch the ground

Teaching you to wait ‘til daybreak
Is a hard old load to bare
But we’re travelling towards the morning
And you and I are siblings there.

In the morning we’ll laugh
To the cleanest joke
That has ever, ever been told.
Somehow we’ve always known it,
But it will never never get old.
In the morning no one will laugh and be a fraud
Everyone will get it, at no one’s expense but God’s

There were angels in the crib whispering
And you cracked a smile
But heaven’s jokes are innocent
And I don’t get the one’s they tell

I hope you’ve forgotten
When the whole room laughed at you
I was caught up entertaining
Now I can’t sleep because of you.

The joke’s on him
just like all the food and the wine
just like the air, the light, the time.
And in the morning, I will rather die then hurt you.
Track Name: God's Sweet Time
I waited for a melody, waited for a line
But got confused, the muse she lingered taking her sweet time.
She fin’lly blazed in my room one day when I was out to lunch
but you can see her scorch marks on the curtains and the couch.
That song’ll get written in God’s sweet time.

Went to the doctor and the doctor he sent me
To all the eager specialists to feast their minds on me
At church they dapped my head with oil and laid their hands on me
I cried a thousand prayers at night for the death of this disease
If it comes, then it comes in God’s sweet time

In God’s sweet time
In God’s sweet time
Couldn’t see the reason
Even less the rhyme
Locked inside this clock
and the gears they won’t stop grinding
What is this bitterness in God’s sweet time?

This town once pretended that when it lives or dies
Is just like any other thing; something it decides
Then the Williams kids all passed when those two cars collided;
the line of flowers at the front of the church was three caskets wide.

The needle that’s been prickin’ us and skippin’ across the vinyl
Is finally gonna catch the groove and ride the thin black line
When heaven comes to settle here; no one knows how long
But we’ll finally catch the song we’ve caught in snatches for so long
Our ears forever ringing to
Caught up swaying, swinging
God’s sweet time.
Track Name: Over There
Asked my brother what he saw over there
And he stared like half ain’t been told
At his silence I never been so scared
That a young man can look so old

Asked my brother what he did over there.
And he stared like half ain’t been told
And he said I’ll never understand
It was then that my blood ran cold

Some things hands were never made to do
Some things ears never made to hear
Some things souls are not made to carry ‘round
And now we’re beyond repair
Track Name: Two Little Doves
There’s two little doves on the window sill
One’s just sittin’ there very still
The other’s got a little twig in his bill
There’s two little doves on the window sill.

Now there is a little nest
A circle of sticks around mama’s breast
She’s brooding all day ‘cause she knows what’s best;
There is no life without faithfulness.

Let’s be quiet and pull the drapes
Don’t wanna scare the little bird away
Don’t press your face to the window pane
We love the dove and we want her to stay.

Now there is a little white egg
Perfect as the first egg ever laid
gleaming like the last snow ball
when all the other snow has gone

Now the sun is beating down
She’s panting in her coat of down
And when the peepers sing at night
She’s still there blinking in the soft lamplight.

That dove that brought hope long ago
Scouring the sea for some green below
We wanna know when and we wanna know how
We’re still peering off of Noah’s bow.
Now there’s a stream of miracles
Commonplace, but heaven-sent
So hush now baby don’t be upset
The world ain’t been abandoned yet!
Track Name: Drowning
Ol’ Hank made a threat he would take his life
Goin’ down in the river 3 times; only come up twice.
Sure enough he drowned in liquor, but he saw the light
half baptized and drowning…

Got out of jail early; sentence cut in half
Didn’t make me smile but it made me laugh,
being let loose on the lost highway is a funny kind of free
got a rusty ribcage and a heart that won’t stop beating.

Half baptized is all we understand
We’ve been saved, but saved just to not be damned
Half baptized is worse than half way there
What is being spared when you’re out of air?

Taught but never known well
Told but never shown well
Half baptized and drowning.
Oh well.

Us kids we thought that it was our true hope
To be let off the hook and then be left alone.
But our Dad was never safe after the belt was put away
Until he took down that old mandolin to play.
Track Name: Weasels and Men
There was a flock of ten
One rooster, nine hens
And we were dead set on treating them right.
We’d been dreaming or talking
And didn’t hear the squawking
Or screaming of hens in the night

While windows were glowing
From some lonely burrow
The horror came looking for hens
And we never saw nothing
So needless, so thorough
The exploit of weasels or men

So we made holy the rules we could handle
And fought only winnable fights
And settled for vict’ries so small that its shameful
The snap of the trap in the night.

Unnamed and unheard
But known by its work
And all that was left; blood and tears
In the eyes of my children
And their thousand stray comments
It was the content of all later fears.
Track Name: Jericho
Jericho, I once was rich
Made beggars of half that town
Widows left without a burlap stitch
but I wore sack-cloth under the purple gowns

What I heard, I don’t recall.
In all the rumors, must have heard his call, but
the crowd it gathered round him tight and tall
So I ran like a fool along the city wall

Climbed a tree, skinned my knee
Curious beyond all dignity
The first time they all looked up to me
They still pretended not to see.

They say that Joshua from long ago
Came to town, marched around
He smiled at me, but not in ignorance
He could have frowned. He should have frowned.
And somewhere deeper then the solid ground
A trumpet sounded, the trumpet sounded

And he invited himself home with me
I took a rest, I took a rest
When he comes to dine with you
You are the guest, you are the guest

Jericho, I once was lost
But I’ve joined the ranks of the kingdom found
who once were fortified against all assaults,
but never thought to guard against a gift
and I’ve been hungry plenty since.
but the walls came tumbling down, down, down.
Track Name: Blow Wind
There’s a dark shadow that’s been a-followin’ me
I’ve tried to nail that shadow down
I’ve tried to whitewash the ground where it joins to my feet
But it keeps trailin’ me all over town.

Blow wind, rise up and blow it away!

Well, I’ve sought out the dark where the shadow can hide
but along with the dark comes the cold.
I’ve slunk back to the fire where the light is so bright;
Where the shadow stands stark and bold.

Blow wind, rise up and blow it away!
Ain’t no light gonna cause it to fade.
Rise up and blow it away.

Well, it tore up the lawn, and the garden was gone
When the wind fin’ly swept up my street.
And the shutters were clapping to it’s dark dreadful song
And my soul shuddered to its beat.
The soles of my feet were torn up, but free;
For the wind, it had taken its toll
And amidst all the carnage I knew that the roots
Of the shadow had been in my soul

Blow wind, rise up and blow it away!
Ain’t no light gonna cause it to fade.
Rise up and blow it away.