When Raleigh Keegan moved to Nashville in 2017, he learned two things very quickly, and the hard way. After writing songs he “thought people wanted to hear,” the Cincinnati native learned that he “sucked” at selling things he didn’t like. From this revelation, he learned his next valuable lesson—that his greatest strength is what makes him unique, not trying to fit the mold.
“That’s what I’ve leaned into. Starting in mid-to-late 2018 is when I came to that realization of ‘If my name’s behind it I really have to love it,’ Keegan tells American Songwriter about his new LP, Clocks Roll Forward. “Because I can hear what I’m saying is not believable on songs that I don’t like; I can hear it in my own voice.”
Released October 15, Clocks Roll Forward is a 13-track collection of songs that speak directly from Keegan’s heart. The deeply personal project, produced by Grammy award-winner Ryan Gore (Jon Pardi, Old Dominion), sees Keegan as a co-writer on every track and features some of Music City’s most prolific songwriters.
The album—which he began in late 2019—is a full-length introduction to his life and a segue to the projects ahead that are already underway.
Keegan is an Enneagram Four, meaning his personality test results name him “The Individualist.” This evaluation, he feels, encapsulates the direction he took with his latest LP. “I really value people who do things differently, and uniquely, and they have their own sound. And that’s what I tried to do myself,” says Keegan. “It’s an amazing feeling to feel like people will know you after they hear an album. And that hasn’t happened to me before,” says Keegan. “I feel like this is the first project where people will understand my personality.”
Over the course of the album, Keegan tells a few key stories with veteran poise, carefully introducing his truest self to his listeners. Track 10, “Our First Goodbye,” serves as a centerpiece of his project. It chronicles his story from the beginning—an unconventional start to his success. Co-written with Kyle Jacobs and Brice Long, the sentimental song details his birth, at the Columbus State Penitentiary, to his mother who was incarcerated on drug-related charges at the time, and his adoption by a loving family at just a few days old.
“Our First Goodbye” refers to his opportunity to finally connect with his birth mother as a teenager, just two years before she died of cancer. With wisdom beyond his 31 years, his evocative lyricism exhibits a matured perspective while he expresses gratitude for the brave decision his birth mother made to have him adopted to provide him a better life.
“It’s odd because sometimes in Nashville, we sometimes want to make something less specific, more broad,” he says. “But the artists that I’ve connected with most in the past, the more specific and detailed they were about their own personal story, the more I connected with it—even if I never experienced what they were talking about.”
This phenomenon proved resonant after the first few times he played “Our First Goodbye.” He adds, “Nobody who has heard that song was born in prison, then adopted, and have that story where they reconnected with their birth mom and got to thank her and all that. But somehow they find themselves in that story.”
He finds this counterintuitive. Pop music tends to skew broad in the hopes that the listener can attach themselves to some interpretation of the approachable sentiment. But for Keegan, he is adamant that humans connect with the real thing.
“Like My Daddy Was” is another instance of this candid characterization of himself in his lyrics. Autumn McEntire lends a hand as a co-writer for a telling track that uses his biological father—whom he never met—as a baseline template of what not to do in his paternal future.
“He bounced out of the picture. And that’s what I mean when I say being honest,” says Keegan. “This does not have a positive spin on it. It’s like the hook says, I ain’t gonna be like my daddy was. My kids aren’t going to have to think about if I love them or not, or if I’m going to stick around or not. Some people might not connect with that, but there’s so many that will.”
This is yet another instance of what Keegan describes as “Honesty to a fault.” His songwriting shines on Clocks Roll Forward, inviting listeners into the most intimate corners of his personal experience. In doing so, he binds himself to his audience with mutual trust in sharing his hurt and celebrating the resulting resilience.
Photo Credit: Sean McGee