Keller Williams with The Travelin’ McCourys
SCI Fidelity Records
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
You would think it would be difficult for an instrumentalist as talented as Keller Williams to find musicians who are worthy of collaboration. Still, Williams repeatedly teams up with interesting bands and individuals, like String Cheese Incident, The Keels and members of the Grateful Dead. For his 18th studio album, Williams turned to The Travelin’ McCourys to make Pick — his latest foray into Bluegrass music.
The band is comprised of Bluegrass legend Del McCoury’s sons Rob McCoury (banjo) and Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), with Jason Carter on fiddle and Alan Bartram on bass. Their impeccable picking and soulful rhythmic playing meshes perfectly behind Williams’ creative songwriting, bringing forth all the warm heartache and nostalgia inspired by the genre.
The 12-track album contains original songs, as well as a few covers, including Steve Earle’s “The Graveyard Shift,” My Morning Jacket’s “Amazed,” and Jessie J’s “Price Tag.” The album features the kind of expert musicianship you’d expect —- but perhaps the most pleasant element is the standard of storytelling.
“Broken Convertible” is the perfect example of how Americana music can capture the state of contemporary culture in a well-timed song. The McCourys’ melody sets the stage for lyrics about a Dad who is completely overwhelmed by the state of the world. His fluctuating surroundings keep “a trillion different things running ‘round in [his] head.” He compares his mind to that of a broken convertible—it’s always open.
Overall, the best examples of old timey Bluegrass come with “What A Waste of Good Corn Liquor” and “Bumper Sticker.” Both tunes will have listeners dancing in their seats to lyrics that encompass the lifestyle of back porch sittin’ and pickin’. The McCoury boys have been playing “What A Waste” with their Dad for a few years, but Williams manages to fit in without throwing off the family dynamic. Del McCoury joins the fun on “Bumper Sticker,” a celebration of the genre that nods to Bluegrass greats while giving each musician a chance to display their prowess.
Pick is appropriately named. After all, both parties are known first for their impeccable instrumentalism. And while the collaboration achieved its goal of creating an acclaimed bluegrass record, Williams and The Travelin’ McCourys prove something greater by coming together. The sum is often greater than its parts -— even when its parts are this talented.