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The Graham Album Review #1814

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Keller Williams: Vape
by George Graham

(Independent Release, As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/13/2015)

By definition jam bands are groups, a bunch of people engaging in rock-based musical collective improvising. But this week, we have a new release by a gentleman who has been called a “one man jam band,” who exhibits the jam band style, though with help from some friends on the recording, Keller Williams. Like his 19 previous albums over the past 20 years, his new release has a one-word title, Vape.

A self-taught musician, Keller Williams is a Virginian through and through. His styles runs from acoustic folk, to bluegrass, to hip-hop-based sampled music under the name K-Dub. He is known for his often funky approach, even when performing acoustically, and his original lyrics are known for often being somewhat humorous or quirky. While he usually performs as a solo live, he has collaborated and has worked numerous times with the members of the String Cheese Incident and Del Mc Coury’s bluegrass band. Known as he is for keeping such musical company, and then often using a looping device on stage when he performs solo, allowing him to build up layers of sound, so his being called a one-man jam band is not off the mark.

About this album, Williams writes in his liner notes that most of the material consists of tunes that he often has played live, sometimes for years. He says that each of them began as a solo acoustic tune, but grew both in his performances of them and in the studio with a lot of overdubbing on the new album.

While much of the instrumentation on Vape was played by Williams himself, he is joined by a number of guests including most frequently bassist Samson Grisman and Jeff Covert on percussion and drum machine programming. And one track features three of the members of Del McCoury’s bluegrass band. In 2014, Williams released Pick a collaboration with the group which they called The Traveling McCourys.

Vape does have the feeling of being a collection of odds and ends, with some more experimental music, and a couple of jam-oriented instrumentals. Once again, Williams serves up some clever, often quirky and in one instance satirical words. And despite the loop-driven electronic percussion on a number of tunes, acoustic guitar remains the dominant sound at the core of the music on this CD.

Opening is a quirky instrumental track called Off Time Chorus Line. The “off-time” part of the title is appropriate for this rhythmically interesting tune. <<>>

The following track is rather typical of Williams’ irreverent lyrics. It’s called Mantra and it’s about practicing with an Eastern spirituality mantra and having fun with all that means. <<>> Toward the end of the tune, it breaks out in a little bluegrass. <<>>

With the members of Del McCoury’s band is another fun stylistic mix, The Drop, which features an interesting mixture of bluegrass sounds with electronic rhythms. <<>>

With a sound and lyrical approach rather familiar to Keller Williams fans is a piece called She Rolls about a spunky character, backed with Williams’ funky acoustic-dominated sound. <<>>

Another of the instrumentals is called Shunjuku, which features a prominent electric piano as played by Gerard Johnson. The piece implies a funky beat, but the tricky rhythm makes dancing not exactly easy with this tune. <<>>

One of the more interesting tracks is called Making It Rain. It’s a clever combination of Williams’ quirky lyrics with a kind of exotic musical setting with what sounds like some world music percussion. <<>>

Williams uses his humorous approach on the song Jesus’ Gun to go after the gun-lobby-spawned so-called “open carry” laws by going on about how he couldn’t be without his rocket launcher when going shopping. <<>>

Another of the fun tracks on the album is Donuts a musically eclectic acoustic funk tune in praise of the pastry. <<>>

The CD ends with a track called CAVA for the combination of the state abbreviations for California and Virginia. He compares the two from the standpoint of a proud Virginian. <<>>

Keller Williams new 20th album Vape derives its title not from the practice of using electronic nicotine dispensers, but as a tongue-in-cheek abbreviation for “VirginiA (VA) Psychedelic Experience.” Like most of Williams albums there’s a combination of creative instrumental arrangements and fun, irreverent lyrics. This combination of songs that grew out of solo performances and have been around in his stage shows for quite a while, turns out to fit together quite well, though there are a number of different stylistic directions they take. It’s an enjoyable, entertaining record.

Our grade for sound quality is about a B+. There are some studio effects that work well, and others less so. As I say for the albums I review almost every week, there is far too much audio compression which artificially increases the volume but kills the music’s dynamics.

One man jam band Keller Williams has come up with another worthwhile record through his winning combination of first rate playing, cleverness and not taking himself too seriously.

(c) Copyright 2015 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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