Each of Keller Williams’s albums has its own stylistic flavor, while at the same time remaining unabashedly within the span of his own musical style. Stage, Williams’s ninth release to date, is no exception. The recording captures a series of live performances on two discs, each of which attempts to capture a different audience vibe: according to the liner notes, a “seated listening audience” versus a “seatless dancing party.” As Williams seems to consider himself more of a live performer (who happens to also record CDs) rather than a recording artist per se, this album, like his earlier live release, Loop, might be thought of as more representative of his work.
The main criticism I have of this album is the preponderance of covers-something that is not nearly as prevalent on Williams’s other releases-which eat up valuable space on the discs that could have been used to capture live renditions of more of his own songs. Although covers generally tend to be a staple of any live act-if only from the need of more material to fill out the sets-Williams’s talent for inventing catchy instrumental grooves, as well as the quirky originality of his songs’ lyrics, make the inclusion of covers of other people’s songs on this release (such as a needlessly long version of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”) wholly unnecessary. With this in mind, it must be added that Williams at least has the good taste to make the songs his own by transforming them into his own idiom, rather than merely copying what someone else already did.
Highlights of the album include the infectiously happy “Keep it Simple,” the humorous words to “Novelty Song” set in a sort of free recitational vocal style, the delicate layers of timbre that unfold in “Celebrate Your Youth,” and the driving virtuosity of the instrumental “Shapes of M+M’s.” Also, having said the above about the presence of covers on this album, I have to admit that Williams’s rendition of “Moondance”-abstracted so far from its original source that it almost seems like a new song, with several improvisational forays into the unknown and then segueing back into the pocket of the song as he set it up at the outset-is most impressive.
Williams’s work is, first and foremost, music to make people happy, and, as usual, is quite successful. This release is no exception; it is a solid effort, and definitely worth the time it takes to hear.