Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Keller & The Keels
Sci Fidelity Records

Keller Williams has been stretching out lately – on 2008’s Live, with Keith Moseley (String Cheese Incident) on bass, Gibb Droll on guitar and Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit) on drums, the guitarist shed his one man jamband persona for a slot in a more traditional lineup, with some pretty positive results. Now, Keller has hooked up with flatpicker extraordinaire Larry Keel and wife Jenny on bass to release Thief, an album of acoustic covers that harkens back to their previous 2006 collaboration, Grass.

With tracks by Amy Winehouse, the Grateful Dead, the Butthole Surfers and the Raconteurs, the selection can only be described as eclectic. For me, the songs that resonate are the ones most closely aligned with the acoustic framework of the record – the Kris Kristofferson tunes that bookend the CD (Don’t Cuss the Fiddle and The Year 2003 minus 25), Danny Barnes’ Get It While You Can, Yonder Mountain String Band’s Wind’s on Fire and especially Patterson Hood’s Uncle Disney, which benefits tremendously from the interpretation, adding harmonies and tasty acoustic guitar licks to take this tune to another level.

Does it all work? In a word, no. Rehab, Winehouse’s infamous hit, is good for little more than a laugh and perilously approaches the parody territory occupied by bluegrass jokesters Hayseed Dixie. Marcy Playground’s Sex and Candy fares only slightly better, although Cracker’s Teen Angst (“The world needs another folksinger like I need a hole in my head.”) translates nicely. Keller & The Keels generate plenty of sparks over the course of the thirteen tracks here, the outstanding playing of Keller and Larry is underpinned expertly by Jenny Keel, who plucks and slaps the acoustic bass with aplomb.

While Thief does occasionally feel like a self-indulgent attempt to let us know how wide-ranging Keller Williams’ taste is, for the most part, it succeeds as a record that blends multiple genres together with a wink and a nod and is something that doesn’t resemble thievery so much as some good-natured borrowing for a good reason.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine
June 2010

AthFest 2010 Compilation

AthFest 2010
Various Artists
Ghostmeat Records

For music fans who like to explore new sounds, Athens, Georgia is the place to be. And if you want to dig into a bunch of new music in one weekend, then AthFest is what you’re looking for. AthFest compilations have always been something special for me… after listening to a number of them; I’ve been excited, enthralled, confused and bemused, but never bored. On this, the 13th AthFest compilation, the trend of offering something new continues: of the sixteen tracks, nine of them are previously unreleased.

This latest volume encompasses everything there is to like about walking through downtown Athens during AthFest, although it seems a bit more mainstream than previous releases. Then again, does mainstream even mean anything when it comes to Athens music? In the past we’ve had rap and blues and gospel and quirky experimental music, but this year the focus is rock and pop, with some country and Americana. Many of these bands have been around awhile, so the new and shiny factor is diminished. The quality, however, is not.

This is a fine group of songs that work and flow together in ways that many compilations can’t manage, from The Whigs garage-band raveup I Don’t Even Care About The One I Love to the new-wave pop of The Orkids or the speedy crunch of Pride Parade’s If You See Her, Say Hello.

The Packway Handle Band’s Outskirts, from their excellent What Are We Gonna Do Now? release, is a great addition, as is Five Eight’s The Ballad of Frankie Jr. and Timi Conley’s New Boyfriend. Also featured are Ken Will Morton, whose Tell It To The Wind quickly became one of my favorites, Venice Is Sinking, William Tonks, and The Incredible Sandwich.

Proceeds from the sale of this compilation benefit AthFest educational programs like AthFest InSchool, AthFest AfterSchool and Keys for Kids.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine
June 2010

Big Sam's Funky Nation

Big Sam’s Funky Nation
King of the Party
Hypersoul Records

The constituents of Big Sam’s Funky Nation know what they want and they know where to get it: direct from Big Sam Williams, former trombonist for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the leader of his own band since 2003’s Birth of a Nation. On this, their fourth release, they do what they do best; play a blend of New Orleans brass band, funk and R&B with some rock-n-roll teeth.

The party kicks off with Big Sam asserting himself as get-down royalty over a solid mix of massive drums, wailing guitars and blasting horns on the title track, and doesn’t really let up until the last track fades from the speakers. In between, you’re treated to flashes of James Brown funk, Parliament space-trips and vocal effects, second-line rhythms, and even a tasty cover Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.” Just as other New Orleans bands like the Dirty Dozen and Bonerama have worked to expand their musical boundaries outside the city’s confines, Big Sam’s Funky Nation have embraced the party-all-the-time dance machine ethos and work it until the sweat drips.

In short, Big Sam IS the King of the Party, and you’re invited.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine
May 2010