This December, country music artist Raleigh Keegan will find himself standing on the same field on which his beloved Cincinnati Bengals play to perform the national anthem.
And he still can’t believe it.
“My whole life, through thick and thin, I have been a Bengals fan,” Keegan said days before the release of his much-anticipated debut album Clocks Roll Forward. “I mean, I took a break for about a year after I had my heart broken after a playoff game where we lost and one of our players punched one of the other players in the face. But I came back. I always come back.”
Indeed, while Keegan now calls Nashville home as he pursues his dreams of country music stardom via eclectic songs like “Long Line of Lovers,” “Handyman,” and “Another Good Day,” his love for his hometown of Cincinnati not only runs through his veins, but runs through every song of his new album in one way or another.
“I first came up with (the song ‘Our First Goodbye’) at my (parent’s) house in Cincinnati,” says Keegan of the song he wrote back in 2018. “I hadn’t been home for a long time, but I came home, and we still have that crappy, upright piano. And that’s where I wrote the intro of that song which, in the second verse, tells the story of my adoptive parents and how loving and supportive and great they are. And that sort of love reminds me of Cincinnati.”
His Midwestern upbringing certainly seems to support the former football and basketball star from Princeton High School’s need to always lead with his truth, no matter how messy that truth might be.
“When it comes down to my music, I’m just such a stickler for something that’s true,” says Keegan, whose birth mother was incarcerated on drug related charges at the time she gave birth to him, leaving him to be adopted by a loving family just a few days later. “With this album, I wanted people to get to know me and my story and my personality. There’s always this internal voice in me that dictates what I should do when it comes to my music and leading with the truth feels like my most powerful asset.”
Helping him in this mission to live out his truth in his music was Grammy-award winning producer Ryan Gore, who also worked on Kacey Musgraves’ groundbreaking debut album Same Trailer Different Park.
“I remember the first time I heard ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ on that record and I was absolutely stunned,” Keegan remembers. “I was like, no one’s ever going to write a better song. Sometimes in Nashville, when I go into the writer’s room and other writers want to know what my vibe is, I’ll say I’m kind of like a male Kacey Musgraves.”
And like Musgraves, Keegan sees a record as an entire piece meant to be consumed all at once to digest its story correctly.
“I remember going to a Billy Joel concert and becoming totally attached to his album The Stranger,” he recalls. I listened to The Stranger a hundred times. I think albums are still a magical experience.”
And there is one person in particular that he hopes listens to Clocks Roll Forward in its entirety, and that’s his old jazz band teacher Tim Smith.
“He taught me everything I know about music theory,” Keegan concludes. “He pushed me to be great at music and he challenged me. “I would literally not even be one-tenth of the musician I am without him. I wouldn’t be who I am without him.”