Call him folk, call him bluegrass, but don’t call him ordinary. Packing a legion of guitars and electrical equipment, Keller Williams recently kicked off his fall tour to promote the release of his new album Home.
Critics nationwide have pondered the labels that can be placed on Williams, for his music crosses so many boundaries that there truly is no classification.
Still, in a recent phone interview with The Badger Herald, Williams paused and drew in a deep breath before describing his music as “solo-acoustic-jazz-funk-reggae-techno-grass.”
But not since Jesse “The Lone Cat” Fuller at the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival has there been a solo artist that has sparked as much attention as Williams has. Utilizing electrical looping and a customized 10-string guitar, he creates on stage a virtual symphony of rhythms and sounds that would normally take a full band to produce.
By building layer upon layer of riffs and medleys, Williams is able to provide himself a bass line and rhythm section with which to play along. He has also been known to treat concertgoers by looping his own voice during live shows to supply back-up vocals.
Destroying all stereotypes about one-man bands and solo artists, Keller Williams has brought forth a musical show that has been embraced by the growing jam-band scene and has created a following of his own.
“I like seeing a lot of the same people over and over,” he said. “I call them repeat offenders.”
But Williams has more reasons than fan base to be happy. Home marks his eighth album release, and, despite past collaborations with The String Cheese Incident on Breathe and Dave Watts and Tye North’s work on Laugh, Williams decided to fly solo this time around.
“I have been traveling and performing solo for so long,” he said, “That it seemed like that obvious thing to do. I wanted to bring what I do on the stage into the studio. They have always been two separate monsters for me.”
However, if conquering a beast of a project was his plan, then that’s just what he got. On Home, Williams took on the task of playing all the instruments himself.
“I’d been playing a lot of bass and a lot of drums lately, and I just wanted to take a shot at it,” he said. “Home is missing the flashiness of the Laugh or Breathe albums, but it was definitely a fun and difficult album to make.”
But he may sell himself short on his interpretation of Home. What Williams has created is a studio interpretation of his live shows, and even without external talent, he created a solid album that still sounds uniquely his own.
Williams’ true wizardry, however, is not his ability to create great albums or write quirky lyrics that mirror his real-life adventures. The brilliance that has carried him nationwide is attributed to his incredible guitar playing, which is often compared to Leo Kottke and Micheal Hedges. Now take this guitar-playing golden boy and give him the capability to loop and synthesize, and what you will find is a musician who borders on genius.
Tonight, Williams will make a stop at Madison’s Orpheum Theatre, where he anticipates a fabulous show.
“I think the people of Madison can expect to see things that they have never seen before,” Williams said. “They might also see some young, open-minded, hairy people and a lot of smiles.”
Keller Williams plays tonight, Thursday, Oct. 9, at the Orpheum Theatre (216 State St.). The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $19 at the door.