Writing a review is always a tough task. If the disc fails to move you, one still needs to find some positive attributes to counter your remarks about perceived shortcomings. If you are really excited about a recording, it can be challenging to find the right phrases that clearly communicate what makes the record great. But what do you say when the album under consideration has already been named the Best-Self Produced CD of the year by the Blues Foundation?
In the case of Dave Keller's award-winning project, you start by acknowledging that producer Bob Perry has put together a fine sounding disc. He surrounds Keller's emphatic vocals with expert backing from the Revelations – Wes Mingus on guitar & lap-steel, Gintas Janusonis on drums & percussion, Josh Werner on bass and Ethan White on keyboards. The horn section of David Steinberg on sax, Geoff Countryman on baritone sax and Joe Ancowitz on trumpet also make strong contributions. Keller plays guitar, taking the majority of solos.
You would expect a disc honored by the Blues Foundation to offer to honor or extend the blues tradition. In this case, you would be wrong. Keller and Perry selected an impressive batch of tunes from the soul genre – songs that pack a punch and, for the most part, are none too familiar.
Keller easily fills the role of the blue-eyed soulster, his voice crying out in anguish on “You Hurt Me For the Last Time” or soaring as he pleads for understanding on Phillip Mitchell's “That's The Way I Want to Live My Life”.
“Are You Going Where I'm Coming From” establishes a tougher groove. Keller gets vocal support from his brother Todd and Harley Hiatt. The lead singer for the Revelations, Tre Williams, joins Keller for a stirring vocal duet on “The Things We Have to Do”.
With the horn section riffing behind him, Keller sounds convincing as a man trapped by the love of a woman on “Too Weak to Fight”. The cheating song “Steppin' Out” finds Keller vowing to answer his lover's treachery with some of his own. His expressive singing on Robert Ward's “Strictly Reserved For You” highlights the positive aspects of love. The only weak moment occurs on “Pouring Water On a Drowning Man”. Keller fails to generate the emotional impact found on other versions of this classic tune.
This recording succeeds on several levels – strong material, sympathetic backing musicians, fine production, great sound and a singer who can get to the heart of a song. It may not be blues but it sure is some damn fine music!