Cover albums can be a sticky wicket to say the least. They can be magnificent if the artist has a certain simpatico with the songs and feels they can add a little something to the original version (Exhibit A: The Twilight Singers’ She Loves You), but just as easily a massacre if the artists views the songs as a way to fatten his/her bank account (Exhibit B: Rod Stewart’s…well…anything old Rod’s touched since Out Of Order). Add a genre-hop to a cover album, and the difficult rating soars: regardless of what the producers of the dreadful Pickin’ On series believe, an entire album of Hellhammer bluegrass covers isn’t helping anyone.
Keller Williams is sort of the black sheep of the jam band world. A high-tech one-man band, Williams is a disciple of Micheal Hedges who, under the gentle guidance of The String Cheese Incident, has released several critically-lauded, yet popularly accessible album showcasing his quirky songwriting and virtuoso musicianship. On Thief, Williams goes it more organic and joins forces with husband and wife bluegrass duo, The Keels, to chew up and spit 13 of his favorite songs in his own inimitable style.
Before I get any further, I simply must point out that Larry Keel, besides being one devil of a guitar player, has some of the finest facial hair I have ever seen. Sadly, my ladyfriend was not as impressed.
One look at the selections on Thief begins to hint at the scope of Williams’ influences. The recorded is bookended by two Kris Kristofferson numbers: Don’t Cuss The Fiddle (chronicles the beef between Kris and Charlie Daniels that predated Biggie and Pac by decades) and The Year 2003 Minus 25. In between, Larry and the Keels have more than a little fun, tearing through Amy Winehouse’s Rehab one minutes, only to ease into Ryan Adams’ Cold Roses the next. But you know what? Somehow, it all works. Patterson Hood’s Uncle Disney sounds right at home next to The Grateful Dead’s Mountains Of The Moon, and even Pepper by The Butthole Surfers fits like a glove in the skilled hands of Williams and his bluegrass minions. Some of these songs you’ll may hear for the first time; for others, it might just seem like you are. One helluva good time. One helluva good record.