When an artist reaches album number 13 in their career, they’ve every right to do as they please, even if it means completely changing their formula. On Bass, Keller Williams abandons the manic guitar sound that has defined his career and proceeds to, as he’s been known to say, “focus on the bass.” The trio of Williams on bass and vocals, Jay Starling on keys and Mark D on drums come together as Kdubalicious to make Bass an experience full of reggae, funk and dub elements. It’s a different sound to be sure, but it also bears Williams’ undeniable songwriting presence and everlasting sense of humor.
Bass isn’t going to convert any reggae fans into Keller devotees, and if you never liked him before, that won’t change because of this record. But within the context of his career, it’s one of the widest-ranging releases he’s produced. His guitar wizardry is certainly missed during the first listen, but the melodically restless plunk of his bass eventually becomes just as endearing. “Thinking” is based on the kind of jubilant dancehall beat that Williams has been creating for years on stage, and “Super Hot” is a song that could have only sprung from the mind of the man known as KDub. Along with a couple more bulbous dubby, reggae-influenced numbers like “High” and “Positive,” there are saucy souljazz moments (“Buena,” “Hollywood Freeks”), gliding groove folk/rock (“Hobo Jungle,” “The Sun and Moon’s Vangenda”), and classic Keller flights of flippant fancy (“I Am Elvis,” “Hey Ho Jorge”).
Williams is encumbered by no restrictions, so it’s easy for him to indulge himself in frivolity. The scatting on “Thinking” could certainly have been reconsidered, for instance, and lots of the lyrics could use refining. Though unintentionally, he’s close to a stigma that has followed his whole career when he says “I know that it must be hard to take me for real real/not for play play.” But for Bass to be anything other than what it is would be discounting what he’s built over the last two decades. It’s not going to replace Williams’ Stage or Breathe in the jamband canon, but Bass is as quintessentially Keller as the rest of his catalog.