For twenty years Robert Earl Keen has carried the torch for the cowboy intellectual, and the refrain of “Broken End of Love” epitomizes his idiosyncratic writing style: “What am I gonna do about this / It ain't no metamorphosis / It's the cold and bitter broken end of love.” What I Really Mean carries on the best traditions of his songwriting, even as it polishes his approach. Now 50, Keen has matured as singer. He has massaged the nicks from his voice, and “What I Really Mean” and “The Dark Side of the World” contain his strongest, richest singing to date. “For Love” and “What I Really Mean” are two of Keen’s most gentle, faithful pieces, but the album also contains his signature vignettes of comic misadventure, especially “A Border Tale” and “Mr. Wolf and Mamabear.” Keen can spin a wonderful yarn, but his affection for his characters always shines through. “Ride” is a portrait of a middle-aged woman’s newfound freedom, while “The Great Hank” is a great tribute precisely because it has more to do with Keen’s autobiography than Hank Williams’ biography.