Normally cover albums draw a lot of skepticism as they tend to be just excuses to pump an album out, which is usually comprised of shoddy renditions of popular artists’s song. And the same could be said about Keller Williams and the Keels’ new release, aptly titled Thief, if it were not for the oddly redeeming but sparkling choices presented in this collection.
This is not the first attempt at a studio release for Keller & The Keels. Their initial album Grass, released in 2006, was comprised of bluegrass originals and some covers. With the addition of Larry and Jenny Keel to this Keller project as well, the songs are countrified versions of the respective originals. And as one might expect, some are done extremely well and some just fall flat on the ground.
Cover songs (and Keller himself for that matter) are a novelty, and can be just silly if not done right. And the ones that are done right here are the tunes that were already leaning towards country to begin with, such as the brilliant "Don’t Cuss the Fiddle" and "The Year 2003 Minus 25", both of which are Kris Kristofferson originals. Larry’s whiskey-soaked vocals and Jenny’s subtle bass lend significant weight to these numbers. The trio also nails banjo-master Danny Barnes’ song "Get It While You Can", as well as Patterson Hood’s "Uncle Disney".
Other highlights include a newgrass version of the Cracker anthem "Teen Angst", a melodic rendition of the popular Butthole Surfer’s classic "Pepper", and the Grateful Dead’s "Mountains of the Moon".
The rest of the choices on the album are a bit of a mystery. Not only are they out of the realm of style normally produced by Keller Williams or the Keels, but the originals were not that great to begin with. The pop radio hit "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse sounds as sauced as Winehouse herself, and the cover of one-hit-wonder Marcy Playground’s "Sex and Candy" is as drab and lame as the original. Other tunes written by the Raconteurs, Ryan Adams, and the Presidents of the United States of America are not all that exciting either.
Keller Williams has always been a musical obscurity, and this collaboration with the Keels takes that uniqueness one step farther. His previous original studio releases have been full of quirky song compositions, and with Thief, Keller again steps off the beaten path, albeit with someone else’s songs this time. Although he slips a few times he still manages to find his footing to create an easy listening and fun album.