Jim Keller – By No Means (Continental Song City)
With a career that stretches back to the founding of the band Tommy Tutone in 1978, a stint in the 1990’s being publisher and manager for Philip Glass and a current band that features Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo, Jackson Browne’s bassist Bob Glaub and John Hiatt’s drummer Michael Urbano, you know that Jim Keller is the real deal. Add to that his songwriting collaborator is former Levon Helm and current Lumineers bassist Byron Isaacs. He goes on to prove his credentials with his fourth solo album filled with 11 tracks that will soothe your soul. He says of his deep, worldly wise voice that if he didn’t have that voice then the songs wouldn’t be the same and that he no longer tries to sound like other singers like he did in his youth. Those deep, smooth vocal tones hit you immediately on the opener, Easy Rider and it’s a case of easy rider, easy on the ear. The Americana filled Laying On The Tracks has a JJ Cale feel to it, it’s so smooth and laid back and the deep Southern Soul Blues of I Don’t Want To Fight takes us to an almost spiritual plain. We get Latin tinges on Mistakes, most likely down to Hidalgo’s influence but there’s still the JJ Cale vibe. In fact, it’s like Jim is JJ’s urban brother. This is sweet, smooth, sublime uncomplicated brilliance. There’s something about a song where you immediately fall into synch with it and Find My Shadow is one of those songs. Whether it’s the beat, the rhythm, the lyric or the key I don’t know but I was singing along within seconds. He has that skill to find your button and press it.
Maria Come Home has Jim way down there in the vocal range. He sounds like the morning after a heavy night. Slow and deliberate it verges on dark, soul wrenching Country and Latin. David Olney, Johnny Cash and Tom Waits are surely influences on him. Those deep tones continue on Don’t Get Me Started and bass guitar is also prominent. This is an old guy song, listen to the lyric and you’ll get what I mean. Musically, we get hypnotic Canned Heat rhythms with added fiddle and the only extended solo from Hidalgo. Jim has a talent for uncomplicated songs that have an older feel yet also come across as ultra-contemporary. Take Pretending for example. This is delivered as an old style 50s slow Rock N Roll ballad but you are able to take anything from it that you wish. It’s all done in Jim’s inimitable style and continues an album where there are no big solos and it’s all about the songs. Jim flirts with Country, Rock N Roll and general Americana and Love On The Line edges towards Country and the great American songwriters. Wild Love has moody Southern rocking Soul sounds with Vonda Shepard on backing vocal and the final track, Done Walking The Line, signs off on an album where there is nothing that will drag him out of his laid-back form. Suitably twangy guitar, a flip side to Johnny Cash’s Walk The Line and a little pastiche on the lyrics of Blue Suede Shoes say enough about Jim Keller to make you want more.