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

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