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Dave Keyes: The Healing
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/20/2017)
I think that the piano is underrated in the blues. The style that gave rise to jazz, rock, R&B and so many other popular genres is usually dominated by guitars, from the acoustic playing of the blues pioneers like Robert Johnson to the electric blues from Chicago with Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, and on into the blues rockers like Steve Ray Vaughan. So in the popular view, the blues is a guitarist’s music. But there is a long line of blues pianists who have been influential from James P. Johnson to Dr. John. A few weeks ago, we featured a new recording by veteran blues keyboard man Mitch Woods. This time we have another from an artist who has been on the music scene for quite a few years and usually in the capacity as a sideman, Dave Keyes, whose newest recording is a called The Healing.
Dave Keyes is a New York native who has been working with a numerous blues and soul luminaries, including Popa Chubby, Ronnie Spector, David Johansen a/k/a Buster Poindexter, plus the late folk music legend Odetta, rock pioneer Bo Diddley, and rockabilly icon Sleepy LaBeef. He also works regularly with Alexis P. Sutor and her Ministers of Sound, and appeared with them on a Homegrown Music concert here at WVIA. He was also the musical director for the Broadway production “Smoky Joe’s Cafe” featuring the music of Leiber and Stoller, and has also worked on commercial network TV shows. When he is not doing that, he performs with his own band, who make up most of the personnel on this newest, sixth album The Healing.
The new release provides a good cross section of blues, soul and some Gospel. The album features his compositions and vocals as much as his piano and organ work. To be sure there is some good boogie woogie piano, including a solo instrumental piece, but there are some songs that are strong lyrically. Some are on the typical blues subjects like how one’s lover has left, but there’s also a wider range of viewpoints than is typical for a blues album, and there is that Gospel stylistic influence that can carry over into the lyrics.
Guests on the album include Popa Chubby on guitar, and Alexis P. Suter among the backing vocalists, along with Frank Pagano and Steve Rushton on drums, Steve Eminizer on sax, and a bassist named David J. Keyes, who is no relation.
The album opens with one of its stronger songs lyrically. Change is more philosophical than your typical blues tune. It features a classic shuffle beat, and spotlights Rob Paparozzi on harmonica. <<>>
Keyes and company serve up Memphis style soul on Dance in the Dark, with lyrics more contemplative than the usual blues norm. Keyes is heard on both piano and organ, but just as a member of the band. <<>>
As contrast to the rather uplifting lyrics of Dance in the Dark, the following song, Not So Nice Anymore is summed up by the song title, while the band serves up the tune with a strong Bo Diddley beat. <<>>
More in keeping with the blues lyric norm is Ain’t Looking for Love, which features a shared lead vocal with Vaneese Thomas. The band puts in a worthy performance. <<>>
Keyes thankfully includes a great driving solo acoustic piano instrumental called Boogie for Stefan, which is an impressive performance enhanced by the fact that the piece has enough variety to keep it interesting. <<>>
Come to Me is a song in the classic Memphis soul ballad style with echoes of Otis Redding. It’s an original composition that sounds as if it came from about 1966 on Stax Records. <<>>
Keyes includes a tune by rock-Gospel pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe called Strange Things Happening, which is a nice mix of a boogie with Gospel. <<>>
A different facet of the Gospel influence is highlighted on Keyes’ song Faith Grace Love and Forgiveness. It had a great combination of uplifting lyrics and an appearance by a 30-member Gospel choir. <<>>
Keyes’ last album had a Christmas tune. The Healing ends with another song appropriate for season, a sort of a novelty piece called Box of Blues with a jazzy arrangement. <<>>
Veteran blues keyboard man Dave Keyes’ new sixth release The Healing is an all-around enjoyable album that touches on various blues styles. The songwriting is first-rate and somewhat more wide-ranging in subject than traditional blues songs. The band is tight and a definite class act. Keyes is the pianist, but except for the solo piano boogie, his keyboard blends in as one of the band, while his vocals and songwriting takes the spotlight.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus, with the instruments and vocals cleanly recorded and well-mixed. But we take points off, as usual, for the volume compression that squashes together the softer and louder parts to artificially jack up the volume.
With lots of great blues albums by guitar players, it nice to have a classy new recording by a keyboard man.
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