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Keller Williams: Grit
(Independent Release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/16/2022)
There are lots of performers who like to mix genres and to do some musical exploration. This is typically not usually something that singer-songwriters often do. They tend to keep a more consistent sound to frame their lyrics. But one guy who is a singer-songwriter and also has fun going off in different musical directions is Keller Williams. The Virginia-based performer has just released a new project, as he approaches some 30 albums. The new one, like all his others bears a one-syllable title, Grit and on it he serves up his usual quirky but often whimsical musical creations.
Fifty-two-year-old Keller Williams is a graduate of Virginia Wesleyan College where hr majored in theater, but soon devoted himself to music, moving to Colorado where he associated with the jam band scene there including the String Cheese Incident. He released his first album in 1994, and since then has averaged over an album a year. He has toured constantly, and has been called a one man jam band for his use of different instruments and using looping to create layered parts live. Though he usually performs solo, many of his albums are collaborative projects, with for example the bluegrass band the Keels and Del McCoury’s backing band the Traveling McCourys. He recently did a project with some jazz musicians he calls Kwahtro. He has done an album of Grateful Dead covers played on piano, and in 2020 did one with an electronic dance producer named Erothyme, in which during the pandemic, he recorded his parts on his cell phone and contributed them that way.
The new album, Grit, is largely solo but with Williams playing a lot of instruments by overdubbing, including such things as acoustic bass and vibes. But there are some regular contributors including drummer Jeff Covert, plus banjo, Dobro and steel guitar players who are brought in for specific tracks. The material on Grit may not be as wide-ranging musically as some of his previous albums, but Williams keeps it interesting, with his combination of droll lyrics and danceability. In fact he has called what he does ADM for “acoustic dance music.”
Opening the rather short 35 minute album is Ocular Invalid apparently about a person with a different way of seeing. It features a full band sound with the drums, and some steel guitar. <<>>
There are a couple of instrumentals on the album. One is called Creepy Laugh in which he does some of the percussive guitar work for which is known. <<>>
Intended for release as a single is the song Warranty, in which someone’s bad luck with physical things contrasts to an apparently successful relationship. Williams plays the vibes on the tune. <<>>
Williams get into his bluegrass mode for a song called The Worst That Ever Was about having bad luck in fishing. <<>>
Also with some country influence, thanks to the pedal steel guitar of Jim Byram, is the track called Imaginary Song with its lyrics that seem to have a story behind them, but it’s not apparent what that is. <<>>
One of the more interesting pieces on the album is called Bubbles with an almost jazzy sound but with bluegrassy fiddle, played by Eddie Dickerson. <<>>
The other instrumental is a solo guitar piece called Hedges which is likely a tribute to the late innovative guitarist Michael Hedges who popularized the distinctive percussive acoustic guitar style. <<>>
The album end with Secret of the Ages, which I suppose is a kind of classic Keller Williams song, with a danceable mostly acoustic sound, including with Williams again on the vibes, and his rather of stream-of-consciousness lyrics. <<>>
Multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Keller Williams has had a durable career in music with his combination of experimentation and collaborations, with his often whimsical songs. His new album Grit encapsulates that with compositions that epitomize his style. So in that respect this is not his most innovative or eclectic album, compared to some of the collaborative projects he has done in the past, but Williams is always out to offer a good time with his music, and this album is no exception.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. The audio is usually clean, but it’s lacking in dynamics from the heavy-handed volume compression.
Though he has guests on his new album, Keller Williams maintains his reputation as a “one-man jam band” on Grit for all the instruments he plays. And his description of what he does as “acoustic dance music” is also quite apt. It’s fun, engaging music.
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