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Keller Willams: Sync
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/1/2017)
The popularity of the jam band scene has brought forth a good crop of different groups in a fairly wide range of styles, from the sophisticated art rock or fusion of groups like Tauk and Umphrey’s McGee, to the bluegrass influence of bands like Railroad Earth and Leftover Salmon, to some occasional world music influence from The String Cheese Incident, to some bands who borrow from the Grateful Dead and noodle along in the hopes of that something interesting will happen. This week we have a worthwhile new album by a gentleman who occupies his own niche on the jam band scene, Keller Williams, who specializes in acoustic guitar and is known for his often witty lyrics. He frequently performs solo and has often been called the one-man jam band, though he usually records and often tours with others, including bluegrass master Del McCoury’s band. The prolific Mr. Williams has just released two new albums simultaneously, one called Raw which is a solo acoustic recording, and the one we have today, called Sync. Throughout his career, all his albums – and these are his 22nd and 23rd – if my count is correct, have all had one-word titles.
Sync, like some of his previous recordings such a Pick which had the Mc Coury Band, features a regular group throughout. Most of his recordings have had guests who tend to vary on the record. Sync has an interesting group, and he gives it a name, “KWatro” spelled with a “KW” for Keller Williams. It is, of course, a quartet and it includes notable jazz bassist Danton Boller, who has worked with trumpeter Roy Hargrove and composer/guitarist Anthony Wilson among others, plus guitarist Gibb Droll, who has worked with Williams over the years, and drummer Rodney Holmes, who has worked with Carlos Santana and fusion guitarist Steve Kimock. There are some additional guests, including a cameo by Williams’ young son Cabell, and members of the group The Accidentals.
Interestingly, while Williams is known for his live shows, and a spontaneous approach to playing – and he plans to tour with this band, this album was recorded with Boller and Holmes adding their parts from their respective home studios – Williams says their basements. The members of the Accidentals were recorded in Michigan and Mike Dillon, who plays vibes on one track recorded his part in the UK. Williams and his fellow guitarist Gibb Droll were recorded in Williams home state of Virginia. But despite and geographic and temporal separation of the musicians, the album is rhythmically tight and maintains a good groove. Interestingly, with this group present, Williams avoids the looping devices for which he is known in his solo shows.
As usual, Williams tends to be somewhat whimsical in his lyrics, while his acoustic guitar work is impressive. Danton Boller’s acoustic bass is a significant presence on the album. He gets a couple of solos, jazz style.
The album opens with a track called Ripped Six Pack that shows the album’s somewhat jazzy direction and features Williams’ irreverent, seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrics about doing imaginary physical feats. <<>> Danton Boller gets one of his solos. <<>>
A piece called Cheaper by the Bale is somewhat more ambiguous lyrically but eclectic musically with a kind of reggae beat, something which Williams has done before. <<>>
An instrumental called Watchootwantgurl represents the funky jazz-rock fusion side of the album, with a set of vibes played by Mike Dillon in the UK, with a little verbal beat-boxing by Williams, another of his trademarks. <<>>
Williams is not exactly known for his love songs. But leaning in that direction lyrically is a piece called Baby Mama. It’s also one of the more laid back tunes on the album. <<>>
There is one song that gets into social consciousness, Hategreedlove spelled as one word. It’s an old-fashioned denunciation of hate and greed, which now seems quite relevant given the occupant of the White House. <<>>
On the other hand, Williams also provides one of his fun, quirky songs called Missing Remote which is about misplacing his TV remote in his refrigerator and then not being able to watch TV, so he ends up writing a silly song about it, as something to do with his time. Musically it’s also fun and moves back and forth stylistically rather like the lyrics. <<>>
The album ends with a piece called Running on Fumes, another song with Williams’ whimsical lyrics. As so many traveling musicians have done, Williams writes about being on the road, but he adds his own idiosyncratic charm to the genre. Musically it’s also a good example of the versatility of the group. <<>>
Keller Williams new album Sync with his group KWatro is another worthwhile recording by a versatile, and likable guitarist, songwriter, sometime one-man jam band, this time performing with a versatile jazzy and funky quartet operating at a high musical level, but conveying a spirit of good fun. The flexible group gives Williams’ music some new twists, after his forays into working with bluegrass musicians. As usual, his music is fun and often tongue-in-cheek lyrically, and his vocals are appealing.
We’ll give the CD a sound quality grade of B+. While recording of the drums and bass individually at different times and in different studios works well musically, there is a bit of a disconnect sonically. The guitars, the drums and the bass each have own their individual sonic quality which are not very well melded. The dynamic range, how well the recording maintains the differences in volume between loud and soft, is also not great.
Keller Williams is known for his musically adept, lyrically clever and spirited music over a more than twenty-year recording career. His new album provides yet another facet of his music and does not disappoint.
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