Keller Williams, Dream
(Sci Fidelity, CD)
Much has been made of singer-guitarist Keller Williams' "one-man jam-band" routine, in which he utilizes live loops to create an ever-evolving backdrop for his quirky musings. The formula has worked exceedingly well for the performer, who, in little more than a decade, has graduated from opening act to headline hero.
Williams forgoes the solo approach in favor of collaboration on his latest disc, Dream. The list of guest performers reads like a who's-who of the jam multiverse, with scene stalwarts Charlie Hunter, Derek Phillips, Victor Wooten, Michael Franti and Béla Fleck all making appearances. Keller must have some sweet connections - he even managed to get Dead honcho Bob Weir to contribute.
Whether or not it's a good Dream depends on how you feel about musically intricate, major-key jam. Personally, it's not my thing, but the album should go over well with already-established fans.
The performances are beyond solid: The bass lines snap, the acoustic guitars sparkle, and there are enough little production accoutrements to appease even the most persnickety ears. Like, say, mine.
On the other hand, there are Williams' philosophy-flunky observations - "life is a rollercoaster" being but one example. And here I've gone on all this time thinking life was a highway.
The disc kicks off with "Play This," a blast of pseudo-punk apparently conceived as some sort of protest against assembly-line rock. "Grind your teeth, dye your hair / Pierce your ass, I don't care," Keller sings. Problem is, his stuff doesn't sound any less contrived. It just happens to have more complex changes.
Most of the lyrics are studiously irreverent - the kind of hyperbolic nonsense favored by so many of today's jam bands. "The prettiest ride in all of God's creation / It's something that Buddha would drive / And Allah be riding shotgun / Santa Claus in the back next to Hare Krishna / And Jesus be riding bitch seat, 'cause he's good like that," Williams sings on "Cadillac." If you think that's clever, wait 'til you hear his ditty about ninjas.
It's called "Ninja of Love," actually, and it features Michael Franti doing a tired Bob Marley impression. But not before Williams gets his lady-killin' groove on: "I can sneak silently through your halls (I'm a ninja) / With great ease, I can scale your walls (I'm a ninja)," he sings. In the wide world of sexual euphemisms, it certainly ranks among the lamest.
"Twinkle" is actually pretty cool, thanks in part to an extended solo from Steve Kimock that ably apes Jerry Garcia. Can't quite call it original, though.
If you like your jam sunny-side up and with a side of stoner jabberwocky, Dream is just the ticket. If not, welcome to your nightmare. Williams plays the Higher Ground Ballroom on Wednesday, February 28.