Keller Williams is a multitasking wunderkind. Aside from the fact that he performs in a dizzying array of genres – from folk, funk and bluegrass to rock, reggae, electronica and even adolescent offerings – he seems to strike up a new combo seemingly on a whim, most likely to serve his divergent musical purposes. There’s a dizzying roll call of individual identities – the Keller Williams Incident, Keller Williams with Mosely, Droll and Sipe, The Keels, and Kdubalicious — and yet, he’s also happy to go it alone without being bound to a conventional combo. A veritable one man jam band, he’s equally adept at performing solo with loops, phasing and other forms of prerecorded instrumentation. If that was the extent of his resume, Williams would already be admired for what he is, an incredibly prolific performer.
However, his association with various other artists – Larry Keel, Yonder Mountain String Band, the String Cheese Incident, the Rhythm Devils, Umphrey’s McGee, and Ratdog — has found him to be a willing fellow traveler. His presence on the jam band circuit and association with other musicians who boast a similar style has given him singular standing and a decidedly populist appeal. And if that’s not enough, an internet radio program has helped broaden his notoriety even more.
Williams’ new album, Vape offers another example of his willingness to stretch his parameters, although in truth, the album more or less stays within his stylistic borders, as broad as they may be. He generally travels the rural routes, from the big bayou of Louisiana to more urban environs where blues and jazz hold sway. His fretwork is remarkable, and it’s in that regard that these songs seem to swing and sway according to the mood and motif. Likewise, when Williams goes to the mike, a tack he takes on the majority of these tracks, he’s equally effective and remarkably poised.
That said, Williams is at his best when he lets his guitar express his sentiments. The dark and disturbing “Off Time Chorus Line” blends well with the shadowy shuffle of “Mantra”, the track that follows. And while a pair of offerings hint at hip hop (the bizarre homage to creme filled pastry entitled “Donuts” and the rap infused “Making It Rain”), the rest of the set flows with an easy, laid back vibe. When Williams gets into the cool groove that accompanies “High and Mighty” or the perky, playful “She Rolls”, it’s easy to imagine a wafting of reefer smoke (tape perhaps?) engulfing the crowd as the fun of a festival begins.
Because Williams mostly draws from an acoustic template, it’s unlikely he’ll be hailed as your typical guitar hero. Instead he lends himself to a back porch vibe, and an audience that shares his organic inclinations and an appreciation of subtlety and finesse. Williams delivers on both counts, and while he may sometimes seem difficult to pin down, his authenticity is never in question. For those yet unaware, Vape may merely be a starting point, but even if that’s the case, it’s an excellent introduction.