Despite the prevalence of folk music superheroes like Bela Fleck, Martin Sexton and Michael Franti throughout the record, Keller Williams's songs are not well represented here. Like a dream from which one awakens feeling disoriented and disgruntled, Dream falls short on cohesion, vision and charm ... though it's not easily forgettable.
Keller Williams Could've Done Better
There's nothing specifically bad
about Keller Williams' latest album, Dream
(SciFidelity Records, 2007). After all, with personnel ranging from Michael Franti to Béla Fleck, Bob Weir, Dave Chalfant, Martin Sexton, and Charlie Hunter (not to mention at least a dozen other megastars), I'd be an idiot to slam it. Nonetheless, even the presence of all the brilliant legends on this record doesn't make it an incredible record, and that, in itself, says a lot.
Who's to say if the ball was dropped in production or in the songwriting, but it sure as heck wasn't dropped in the instrumentation. As the aforementioned paragraph can attest, there's no shortage of incredible players on hand here. But, just as there's nothing wrong with the record, there's little that's really great about it.
Keller Williams, himself, is an incredible instrumentalist. There are even great concepts at work herenamely a marriage between psychedelia, r&b, jazz and acoustic jam rock, not to mention great mantras like "Celebrate Your Youth," and "I see beauty every day." But then Williams nails it on "Life" when he sings, "Life is like a dumb song." Considering "Life" comes amidst a Dream, one can only presume that the dream is an even dumber song.
Some Kind of "Dream"
Apparently, Williams dreams about cookies, kiwis, apricots, Hare Krishnas, a love ninja, and Jesus "riding bitch seat" in a Cadillac. It's a strange dream, in other words, and one can suppose it's probably quite a trip, given a gratuitous mix of youth and illegal substances. For yours truly, it feels like something so many other bands (Phish, SCI, Moe, even Railroad Earth) have done before, have done better, and could do again with very little effort.
Some of the songs sound like something a cartoon character might write ("Kiwi and the Apricot," "Cookies"), whereas others could just use a lyrics overhaul.
Guest Artist Michael Franti
But then, all of a sudden, Michael Franti whispers, "I'm a ninja," over and over and his indubitable voice falls across the speakers like a savior. Even Williams' trying-too-hard-for-a-giggle lyrics can't screw up Franti's presence in the song. By the time Franti gets a chance to take the lead, it no longer matters that it's not a very good song. Michael Franti's in the house, and you just can't argue with his presence.
Indeed, in the liner notes, Williams attributes much of the song's pervasiveness to Franti's infectious energy. If it helps, close your eyes and imagine it's not such a ridiculous song.
The Bottom Line
It's not all bad, though. The brightest moments come when Béla Fleck and Michael Franti step in to work on the engineering. Indeed, these two men know how to steer a song. Though they do so in this case with no small instrumental input from their own genius selves, the finished product hones in on Williams' natural talents and the strength of the two songs in question ("People Watchin'" and "Ninja of Love," respectively).
Other moments that one would hope could sustain the record include Martin Sexton's vocal percussion, trumpet noises, and guitar work on "Rainy Day," and Williams' theremin on "Life." Finally, on "Sing For My Dinner," Williams is just being Williams, playing a great song straight up, and one wishes for a moment he could've gone that route for the whole album. Even the almost out-of-place solos work smoothly here.
The rest of the record sounds like it's trying to appeal to someone, though that someone seems to differ from song to song. In the end, what the album lacks in cohesiveness is not patched up by Fleck and Franti's spins in the engineering chair, Sexton's innovative noises, or Williams' one incredible hit, unfortunately.