Album review: Keller Williams, ‘Vape’ has a little bit of everything

Keller Williams plays before a sellout crowd in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room Feb. 7. His 20th album, "Vape" was released on April 20. Tahoe Onstage photo by Clare Foster
Keller Williams plays before a sellout crowd in the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room Feb. 7. His 20th album, “Vape” was released on April 20.
Tahoe Onstage photo by Clare Foster

Keller Williams approaches music the way most kids play. He finds something he likes and he puts all of his frenetic energy and enthusiasm into it without abandon until his parents call him in for dinner.

He does it because it feels good. That is how Williams has been able to churn out 20 albums, including this latest release “Vape,” that are done in almost as many styles. He has done hippie-funk, jam rock with the String Cheese Incident, bluegrass with the Keels and McCourys, dubtastic reggae, R&B and even children’s songs. “Vape” serves up a little bit of everything with a shot of heady goodness to make it go down easy.

 

Vape album coverWilliams is certainly not a guy who takes himself seriously and his lo-fi ego and personality are one of the reasons he is so beloved in the live music community. He plays barefoot in shorts, for God’s sake. His lack of ego plays to his musical strengths because it allows him to pursue whatever sound or story he wishes, critics and genre be damned.

 

Williams tends to lean toward the goofy and “She Rolls” is a laid-back ballad of a woman who lacks inhibition and chases the thrill of kissing cops, dancing around church in her undies, and “chasing shine with wine.” It is quintessential Williams storytelling and is supported by the even more eccentric tongue-in-cheek song “Jesus’s Gun.” The track skips along as Williams explains America’s (and his) need for protection at Target with rocket launchers and ponders about what kind of heat Jesus would pack. Williams can flood his comedic musings with too much novelty, and “Making It Rain” and “Donuts” don’t offer enough substance for repeat listens. He strikes a perfect balance of substantive goofiness on “Mantra.” The tune hums with guitar, percussion, and “ohms” as Williams tries to recall his mantra. The concept is funny and Williams executes it with beautiful aplomb and succeeds in putting you in a delightful trance.

 

One thing that sometimes gets overlooked when talking about Williams is how accomplished he is in guitar playing and making arrangements. The album’s best offering is the heady “The Drop,” which swirls around in a trippy freak-folk manner. Violin, banjo, mandolin and guitar weave in unison to a pretty melody with drum machine accompaniment before they all drop into a low-end groove. It is an impressive arrangement with a quirkiness that few beyond Williams would have the audacity to implement. The instrumental “Off Time Chorus Line” bounces around to the acoustic funk of Williams’ unique percussive strumming and will lead many to bob their head in accordance. “High and Mighty” shows off Williams’ ability to write an earworm of a song and the “oohhs” of the hook will take some time to get out of your head.

 

“Vape” probably won’t attract any new fans to Williams’ base but his established fans should flock to it. Williams is as confident, creative and carefree as he has ever been and “Vape” is one of his more pleasurable releases. Pop it in your CD player and take an afternoon to roll around on the grass like a kid again and you’ll see where Williams was coming from with this album.

 

  • Keller Williams
    “Vape”
    Released: April 20, 2015
    Notable Tracks: “The Drop,” “High and Mighty”
    Purchase: LINK

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Tahoe Onstage is an online entertainment and sports magazine covering Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Reno, the Carson Valley and June Lake.

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