Keller Williams’ latest CD, Dream, finds him collaborating with a host of notable guests, including Ben Harper, Bob Weir and Bela Fleck.
Even though Williams recorded Dream with those star performers, he doesn’t shy away from performing songs from the album live — even in his solo shows.
“All of these songs were written as solo acoustic songs,” Williams explained in a recent interview. “All of them were played so many times before they were even recorded. So to me it’s easy to translate the material. For the people who are hearing those songs on the record for the first time and getting used to those arrangements, they hear me live, I could see where it could be a drag, because it’s something very stripped down from what they’re used to. But those people that have been coming to see me live over the past couple of years know that those are all solo acoustic songs and they’re kind of special versions on the record.”
As Williams hinted, the Dream project did not happen quickly. In fact, he had begun making a list of artists he hoped to work with — including guitarist John Scofield, banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, String Cheese Incident, former Grateful Dead guitarist/singer Bob Weir and guitarist Steve Kimock — several years ago, and recording sessions for the CD began some three years ago.
“Everyone seemed really into it and said yes. The thing they didn’t say was when,” Williams said. “So that’s where the extended time comes in. Instead of pressuring people for a date and giving them a deadline, I’d wait until they were good with it.”
Williams’ patience paid off in a CD that is highly enjoyable and eclectic, with material that ranges from the pleasantly ramshackle folk of “Cadillac” (featuring Weir) to the funky “Life” (which features, of all things, talk box guitar from guest Jeff Covert) to the reggae/hip-hop inflections of “Ninja of Love,” a song Williams wrote specifically for his guests on the song, Michael Franti and Spearhead.
While Dream is technically his current CD (a career retrospective album, 12, was released in the fall), Williams said his live shows won’t really promote that album.
“I don’t really go out and focus on that material and try to play that material off of the record,” Williams said. “This is my 11th record, so I can draw from tons of different material, plus I love playing covers and I’m constantly learning new covers.”
Williams continues to do an occasional solo show in his unique one-man-band format.
On stage, Williams augments the standard instruments of guitar and vocals with a variety of other instruments, including bass, keyboards and drums. Using a technique Williams calls live phrase sampling, he creates the illusion of having several musicians on stage by stepping on an effects button to record, for instance, a keyboard part. By pressing the button again, the keyboard part gets played back, and Williams can then layer on another part on a different instrument. Repeating this process creates a multi-instrument backing track over which Williams can play and sing live.