Jim Keller has made one memorable mark in American pop music. As the co-founder of ‘80s rock band Tommy Tutone, he was responsible for the insanely catchy “867-5309/Jenny”, the world’s only song about falling in love with a girl that you only know from a phone number scratched out on a men’s bathroom stall. While “867-5309/Jenny” can be classified as a novelty song, the sort of thing that does stick in your cranium but is utterly disposable, Keller, who returned to making music last year after a 10-year hiatus, demonstrates on his sophomore solo release Soul Candy that he’s more than just a one-hit wonder from years yore. Throughout the course of the 11 tracks presented here, Keller deftly twists and turns his way through roots-rock stompers, lilting power-pop numbers, soulful ballads and scorching bluesy numbers. While Keller is reaching for stadiums with his big rock sound on Soul Candy, these songs work best in a smoky barroom with a sticky puddle of beer on your table. Longtime Tommy Tutone fans may balk at the fact that there’s no comedy on Soul Candy, but the set is invigorating and finely honed, and it seems that Keller is content in leaving that aspect of his music behind.
There are absolutely no duds on Soul Candy, but the disc does illustrate that Keller has been firmly schooled at the seat of Bruce Springsteen. “Giving It Up to Love” even quotes one of the Boss’s best albums with the lyric: “Darkness on the edge of town / Where the sky is as black as coal.” The song “One More Chance” features lurching sax work that sounds very characteristic of the late Clarence Clemons. Elsewhere, Keller comes across as a low-rent John Hiatt with his ability to traverse a variety of divergent styles and make it all stick together. His voice has a bluesy swagger that does recall Hiatt a little as well. So while Soul Candy isn’t exactly the sort of thing that will light the world on fire with its soaring innovation, it is a well-rendered collection of songs in the best roots-rock tradition, following the likes of your Pettys and Mellencamps. Keller puts the heart in heartland rock with Soul Candy, eschewing the silliness of years gone by with a profound sense of maturity. His sound might be a little tired and well-worn, coming so far after the better-known progenitors of this style of music, but if you like Americana, Soul Candy is a sweet and agreeable slice of sugar-coated confectionary that won’t make your teeth ache.
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// Notes from the Road
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