To simply call him a guitarist is almost missing the point, though that’s certainly his strength. He’s pushed the instrument as few are able. Coupled with mischievous lyrics and attention to detail, Williams gives a show worth watching.
“To keep it fun, I have to bring more and more toys with me,” he said.
He is perhaps the only one-man-band to bring 10 guitars and a few percussion instruments to the stage with him. And use them all.
They’re not superfluous, either, as he builds songs for the audience. He uses a live loop, activated by a foot pedal. He’ll play a riff and record it right there. It repeats back to him what he’s just played while he’s playing another part, and so on. Soon, there are multiple tracks of sound, all Williams.
He coveted a guitar at age three, and had access to an acoustic one. He moved on from that to the hockey stick, as it resembled more closely an electric one. It wasn’t until junior high school that he picked it up in earnest. Looking forward to the future, he knew he didn’t want to go to college. And so he pursued music. Passionately.
He’s just released “Laugh,” a solid album he recorded with the help of Tye North (formerly of Leftover Salmon) and Dave Watts (Motet). They take Williams into new rhythmic territory. For the first time, the talented guitarist is receiving a lot of radio play, which begs the question: Is the music more accessible now?
“Actually, I think the music is just better now,” he said. “I like the last three albums I’ve done. They’re just getting better. But I’m a believer in the power of radio – I feel good about it. I hope people will hear it and like it.”
They probably will. The album showcases his musical abilities, and offers songs in varied styles. One song sounds influenced by the Grateful Dead, another by Led Zeppelin. He’s handy with a phrase, generally tells stories that are fun to follow. And there’s always the quirky little something – a past album incorporated the theme from “Sanford and Son,” “Laugh” has the trio whistling “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” at one point.
“Freeker” is the bookends of “Laugh.” The album opens with a tight first version of the song that weighs in at just under five minutes. Fourteen tracks later, the listener comes to “Freeker Reprise.” It happens to be Williams’ favorite on the whole album.
“We had to edit it down for the first one, but “Freeker Reprise’ picks up where we left off,” he said. “We just kept going. After about 10 minutes of improvising it gets really, really good. I think it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever recorded.”
Despite a marked improvement in the quality of his tunes, the songwriting process isn’t any different for Williams now than it ever was.
“They all just come to me in weird ways,” he said. “I come up with music as a mindless doodle. Lyrically I take from life experiences. I like to take the imagination as far as I can.”
Williams has completed recording two new CDs since May. The first is a full-length original recording, and Williams plays all the instruments on every track for it. The second is a re-mixed version of “Laugh.”
“I pretended to be a modern DJ, and turned them into dance, techno-type songs,” he said. “It’s pseudo house music.”
Keller Williams will be performing tonight at 8150 at 10. Tickets are available at the door, B-Side Records, Mojo Music and Bob’s House of Music. For more information, call at 479-0607.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.