Dream – Keller Williams
Dream, Keller’s Williams’ long-labored feat of co-mingling with his heroes, is consistently interspersed with moments of tantalizing craft and magic. The props of this success sit as much on the shoulders of his collaborators as Williams himself. Williams’ deftly intermingles the creative vision of his guests with that of his own without compromising the indelible characteristics that make Keller Williams a one-of-a-kind artist. It’s a lot like a fantastic hall of mirrors, where the guests who have chosen to step into his world help reflect back upon William his many talents, both revealed and hidden. It is the way in which these artists who differ the most from him (Steve Kimock, Bela Fleck, Bob Weir, Fareed Haque), thus taking Keller and the listener to places previously uncharted, that makes Dream so fascinating not only as a concept, but an album. This is more of a departure for Williams than any previous album, both in the sheer breadth of styles and in the way it was executed (made over 3 years all over the country).
Opening Dream is the seemingly innocuously titled “Play This”, Williams’ mocking reverence for mainstream alternative radio. It sounds like a 100 mph drive through the corporate alternative radio universe, intentionally tilting itself towards farce a hundred times without conceding Williams’ distinct knack for balancing jest with hooks and virtuosity. Its straight-up rock, Keller style. Dig it. On the other side of the spectrum lies “Twinkle,” a free-form jam featuring Steve Kimock on guitar, John Molo on drums and Williams on bass. This finds Keller taking a backseat for a bit, allowing the trio to mold itself into a Kimock-led psychedelia and jazz/rock fusion lesson in Zen and the art of jamming.
Virtuosity plays a big role in making Dream a success, but to reach triumph, virtuosity needs to be mixed with deeper impressions of talent. Williams chose his talent wisely. On “Sing for My Dinner,” the Keller Williams Incident takes us through a genre bending maze of bluegrass, funk-jazz, and interstellar-rock like no other band on Earth could do. Keller plays his six-string banjo as if riding a galloping horse marauding its way to a sunset scene filled with the soundtrack of crescendo-filled moments of musical flight only the Cheese can provide. The psychedelic sitar-guitar that Fareed Haque lays on Williams’ “Cookies” is an enormously layered and complex universe unto itself, with Haque’s percussion and razor sharp guitar spilling out in all directions, never once making a mess. The bare bones, back-porch acoustic duet with Bob Weir on “Cadillac” sounds more Weir than Williams (a tribute to Williams knowing who he’s writing for), yet maintains the lyrical playfulness Williams clearly connects with. Weir sounds as gravelly and soulful as ever and it’s a real trip hearing him sing Williams’ words. As always, though, with Williams’ poetic levity comes spotless phrasing and a tunesmith capable of blowing the doors off of the funny farm, exposing an indelible music of quirk and virtuosity.
The country funk of “People Watchin” throws Williams in with his dream rhythm section of Jeff Sipe and Victor Wooten, while Bela Fleck picks up their fierce tailwind on the banjo. “Life”, perhaps the best-written song on the album, finds Williams in small company (Jeff Covert – whose mark is all over this album, on drums and effects), yet feels as big as any song on the album, mainly because Williams (lest we forget) can manage just fine on his own. Whether it be the seven-piece Modereko-infused “Celebrate Your Youth,” which turns this Williams tune into pure jazz-funk, or the tablas and classical guitar cohesion of “Lil’ Sexy Blues,” Williams clearly had his sights on many horizons for this project. From folk-blues to bluegrass, jazz, world, reggae and funk, Williams weaves his way through it without compromising much at all. No small feat.
If Williams' Dream was to simply have a good time with some of his heroes, he plainly succeeded. Part of the joy of hearing this record is the sense that Williams is having way more fun than you are. If one measure of success is being on par with the best in their field, then Williams demonstrates that even if he’s not the master musician some of these guys are, he’s got game, but more importantly, he’s has the nerve to have a dream and make it happen. I’ll raise a glass to that any day.