Saturday, September 22, 2012

Keller Williams With The Travelin' McCourys: "Pick" (2012) CD Review

Keller Williams seems to always be involved in several projects at once, and all of them are worth paying attention to. His newest album is with the bluegrass band The Travelin' McCourys.  In July, they put out a CD titled Pick. This album has several original tunes, as well as a lot of interesting choices of covers, like the John Hartford tune (a song I love). They also do a great rendition of Steve Earle's "The Graveyard Shift" (a song that appeared on the Steve Earle And The Del McCoury Band CD The Mountain). The fiddle and mandolin are particularly excellent on that one, and listen to those vocals. I love the lines, "I've got what all the women want/I never say I do 'cause I really don't." There are a lot of fun, spirited songs like "What A Waste Of Good Corn Liquor," written by Murray Lewis and Bill Long.  And I'm particularly fond of "I'm Amazed," a tune written by James Edward Olliges, Jr. Again, the vocals are wonderful.

There are no instrumentals on Pick, something odd for a bluegrass album. The CD packaging's interior artwork includes photos of various picks - not just guitar picks and banjo picks, but toothpicks and lock picks and so on.

"Something Else"

Pick opens with "Something Else," an original tune written by Keller Williams. It's a groovy tune with a prominent bass line, and opens with the lines, "She, she was looking for something different/She, she was looking for something else/She, she was searching for higher meaning/She, she was searching for a song." I dig the fiddle, but the song's starts and stops keep it from going wild, which is a bit of a tease, because as soon as the fiddle comes in, I want it to take over, to fly.  And I sure do appreciate the adverb in the line, "She makes me think differently."  (Many people these days seem to have forgotten how adverbs are used.)

"American Car"

"American Car" was written by Mike Doughty and Daniel Dodd Wilson. I like how it playfully turns an idea on its head, yearning to leave the circus to run away to join the office.  I also love the harmonies on this song, particularly on the chorus: "How sweet you are in your long black American car/And you know just where to find me/If I don't know who you are, you will remind me." Like in most bluegrass tunes, the players take turns at leads, and that instrumental section is wonderful, with an easy, bright energy

"Messed Up Just Right"

"Messed Up Just Right" is a cool tune about a memorable date, written by bass player Alan Bartram. It's a fun tune with a certain sense of humor, which is obvious right from the count-off at the beginning:  "One, two, you know what to do." Here is a taste of the lyrics: "Her heels on high enough to excite/I'm sportin' my granddad's cuff links/And she's rockin' my mamma's fur/There's a lot of gals out tonight/But they don't look as good as her."  Her dress is "hot enough to burn" and his hair is "messed up just right." The song ends with morning and it's her hair that's messed up just right. And of course this song features some nice work on bass.

"I Am Elvis"

It's interesting that they include "I Am Elvis" on this CD, because Keller Williams just released this song on last year's Bass. On that record it has a bit of a Paul Simon feel to it, with also a reggae thing at times. As you might guess, the version on the new release is quite a bit different. This version begins tentatively, like it's emerging from the fog.  The vocals are wonderful - listen to the way they blend on the lines, "It's all in my mind/I live inside my imagination/Yes, it's all in my mind/My imagination stays on vacation/And I like to go there when I have the time." Bass still has a prominent place in this rendition. And there is a really nice bluegrass instrumental section, which I wish were longer. This song seems to fly by, though this version is actually more than a minute longer than that on Bass.

"Price Tag"

"Price Tag" is a slower, softer tune that's really nice. I immediately love the feel of this one. And when it kicks in for the chorus, it's the vocals that are really impressive, though the groove is good too. Written by Lukasz Gottwald, Claude Kelly, Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr and Jessica Cornish, "Price Tag" is a song about trying to enjoy the moment and the music. "We want to make the world dance/Forget about your price tag." I believe them. This is one of my favorites from this disc, and is definitely one of the more surprising choices for covers. This one was done by Jessie J, and appeared on last year's Who You Are.

"Sexual Harassment"

"Sexual Harassment" is one I've always loved since I first heard it. This is a song asking if various things that were once considered courting and wooing are now a call for legal action. It's a very funny tune, but also sad and somewhat serious because it has a base in reality. It begins, "If I send you flowers and ask you to dine/If I tell you how I feel over burgundy wine/If I whisper your name in some fake foreign accent/Would that be the same as sexual harassment?"  The song asks, "If I fall in love, what should I do/How can I not come onto you/Is this serious, or is this silly/Or should I plan on pleading guilty?

"Sexual Harassment" was written by John Hartford, and originally appeared on his 1994 release, The Walls We Bounce Off Of.

"Bumper Sticker"

Pick concludes with "Bumper Sticker" How can you not love a bluegrass song that has the line, "It's hard to mow my lawn when my grass is blue"?  And the instrumental section is great. Enjoy all the references (Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Lester Flatt, etc.).

"Bumper Sticker" was written by Keller Williams.

CD Track List
  1. Something Else
  2. American Car
  3. Messed Up Just Right
  4. Mullet Cut
  5. The Graveyard Shift
  6. I Am Elvis
  7. What A Waste Of Good Corn Liquor
  8. I'm Amazed
  9. Price Tag
  10. Sexual Harassment
  11. Bumper Sticker

The musicians on this album are Keller Williams, on guitar and vocals, Jason Carter on fiddle and vocals, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and vocals, Alan Bartram on bass and vocals, and Rob McCoury on banjo and vocals. Del McCoury provides special guest vocals.

Pick was released on July 3, 2012 through SCI Fidelity Records.

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