Keller Williams - Laugh CD
Keller Williams has always had the unexplainable need to make listeners grin, smile, and LAUGH. With his sixth CD release, Keller perfectly exhibits his playful spirit without diminishing his musical genius and technical expertise. Offering fifteen dynamic songs, LAUGH is a truly inspired album by one of today's most gifted and understated musicians.
LAUGH is a mischievously brilliant piece of work. Featuring bassist Tye North (formerly of Leftover Salmon), drummer Dave Watts (The Motet) and a variety of outstanding guest musicians, Keller and friends explore odd timings and quick changes with incredible precision. Keller's use of words as sound, rather than as meaning, is eloquently embodied in Gallivanting. Songs like Alligator Alley and One Hit Wonder exemplify Keller's knack for catchy melodies, and Bob Rules offers a look into Keller's unusual sources of inspiration. Keller performs each of these songs with similar effect during his live solo performances. As one critic reviewed "[Keller] uses his own ingenuity and technical savvy - creating a variety of virtual instruments to devastatingly tuneful effect with his mouth, and occasionally setting up a tape loop of himself playing and/or singing [which are recorded live in front of his audience] and then accompanying himself. "Still, Keller does not underestimate the contributions of his band mates on this current project, especially in capturing spontaneous musical interactions. In fact, some of Keller's favorite parts of the album come directly from his collaborations with Tye and Dave. Such unprompted instrumentals as God is My Palm Pilot and Freeker Reprise best display the creative spark ignited by the trio's dialogue, especially the songs, electronic house tendencies. Perhaps they also offer a glimpse into the next genre Keller will introduce and wield into his highly original sound.
But for now, Keller offers up a hearty Laugh, brimming with all those qualities that make Keller a standout amongst today's musicians. "I didn't know what the album title would be until the end of the recording session," Keller explains. "When we were cleaning the tracks, there was a hell of a lot of laughing to erase. We were having so much fun. We left in a few good chuckles." Chances are, listeners will be chuckling too.
01 FREEKER BY THE SPEAKER
02 ONE HIT WONDER
03 HUNTING CHARLIE
04 ALLIGATOR ALLEY
05 SPRING BUDS
06 MENTAL INSTRA
08 BOB RULES
11 GOD IS MY PALM PILOT
13 OLD LADY FROM CARLSBAD
14 KIDNEY IN A COOLER
15 FREEKER REPRISE
Keller has always made life into art, and vice versa, with his bizarre everyman attitude. There's no seemingly mundane subject that Keller can't turn into a brilliant set of lyrics. From his first album to this one, his music has consistently been about looking at the world in his own wonderful, unique way. His otherworldly skill on various types of guitars and his myriad of influences make his music indescribable, unless you just give in and admit that the man doesn't sound like anyone. He sounds of various styles including funk, jazz, folk, bluegrass, and good old rock. The man can sing, too, and this album is full of brilliant harmonies.
Until now, his albums have featured some guest musicians here and there, and The String Cheese Incident backed him up on 1999's Breathe, but Laugh is an entirely new approach. It's more like The Keller Williams Band. His characteristic wit, vivid storytelling, and not-so-veiled sarcasm are all readily apparent, but he doesn't have to work the "one-man band" to death. That side of Keller got a thorough workout on his last disc, the live Loop. But never fear, loop fans, there's plenty of full, talented sound on this disc to satisfy your craziest Keller craving. The core trio of Laugh is Keller (who handles piano and water bucket duties along with vocals and all guitars), Motet drummer Dave "Human Metronome" Watts, and former Leftover Salmon bassist Tye North.
Clocking in at more than 70 minutes, Laugh is a whale of an album, and a lot to digest at once. Centered on the fan favorite "Freeker By the Speaker", the album takes a long journey with plenty of interesting stops. The band as a whole shines the most on the zippy, lighthearted tunes like "Vabeeotchay" (an ode to the off-season in the surfside town of Virginia Beach), "Kidney in a Cooler" (a story that must be heard to be believed), and the instrumentals "Hunting Charlie", "Mental Instra" and "God Is My Palm Pilot", the latter of which includes a gnarly Lake Trout-style techno-rock breakdown laced with Tye Watts ethereal throat singing and vocal loops from Keller. This track represents the ebb and flow of the album as is comes surging out of the silly "Gallivanting".
There's pure Keller indulgence on Laugh too. His cover of Ani DiFranco's "Freakshow" shows just how much those two musicians have in common as far as vocal phrasing and lyrical ingenuity. "Freakshow", which features Keller alone on vocals and djimbe, sounds as if he could have written it. He further explores his influences with a reading of Michael Hedges' "Spring Buds", which is the only track on the disc that doesn't seem to fit into the general whimsy of the whole thing. It's the ideas and influence of other musicians, however, which make Laugh such a different Keller disc. Another ditty centered on a stunningly normal occurrence (The Price is Right), "Bob Rules", benefits from the addition of fiddle and mandolin. "Mental Instra" is served well by a sprightly flute solo. And soundman Lou Gosain's vocals have become so essential to Keller's sound that he is included on three of the Laugh tracks.
Laugh ends with the song it began with, "Freeker By the Speaker", but the final track is far from a mere "reprise", as the track listing suggests. Made up of three separate excerpts of music, the second run of "Freeker" starts as a continuation of the first track, then morphs into a live version complete with loop madness. Oddly, after 6 minutes, the live version stops and a new piece of studio music rounds out the disc.
Laugh's cover art goes well with the music contained within. A photo mosaic of Keller's face graces the cover, his countenance comprised of hundreds of pictures of everything from his dogs to fans to family to inanimate objects, like the Georgia Theater. The people are all laughing. Even the flowers seem to be smiling. The music on this album is exactly like that. Keller Williams ingesting the world around him, and serving it up in his innovative way, which makes everyone smile (and laugh). -- Bryan Rodgers