By: Bill Clifford
Over the course of a 15 year recording career, commercial radio airplay has been elusive for Keller Williams despite a continually growing fan base. Thus, it would be incorrect to define 12 (being released December 18 on SCI Fidelity) as a greatest hits collection. His twelfth album, it features 11 choice cuts from his previous 11 releases presented chronologically alongside one previously un-released track.
"Turn In Difference" from his 1994 debut, Freek, captures the eccentricities of his songwriting and hints at his guitar prowess in its infancy. While he'd yet to develop his one-man-band style, there's foreshadowing in the layered electric guitar flourishes laid over beds of hushed acoustic strumming. Marimba and the angelic soprano backing vocals by Barbara Nesbit make the inclusion of "Anyhow Anyway" a must. Inexplicably missing is Williams' most popular live song, "Best Feeling," from his fourth album, Breathe, recorded with cohorts String Cheese Incident. The selection of the title track from that recording, while certainly an equally popular song, just isn't the sing-a-long that the former is. However, the bubbly, watery music is buoyed by rhythmic percussion and layered strings from SCI's Michael Travis and Michael Kang, respectively.
After touring with SCI before going solo again, Williams' style underwent a transformation, the results evident on the appropriately titled live CD, Loop. The funky, jazzy excursion "More Than A Little" from that CD features his use of a digital device to record guitar tracks, vocals, bass and even the "mouth fluegel," a vocal effect that doubles as a trumpet, all performed live on stage, digitally captured and then layered one over another, resulting in the sound of a full band.
Williams is a master musician who jumps from one genre to another. Several years later, his style diverged again, this time falling back to one of his earliest influences. "Local" represents his bluegrass CD with The Keels, Grass. This quirky ode to the medicinal plant of choice presents Williams' sense of humor. Closer "Freshies" is the one previously unrecorded song here. It's mellow, quirky and bouncy with a ska backbeat, and running under three minutes has the making of a fun pop song.
Overall, 12 won't likely win Williams new fans in radio, but it is recommended for live music fans who've seen him perform but have yet to get in the ring with his CDs.
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