Soul/blues singer and guitarist, New Englander Dave Keller debuts on Catfood Records, the home of his mentor Johnny Rawls, James Armstrong, Barbara Carr and others in the soul/blues field. Every Soul’s a Star is a breakthrough for Keller who first caught attention by singing on Ronnie Earl’s Living in the Light. Since then he’s been nominated for a BMA for Best Soul/Blues Album, won the IBC Best Self-released CD Award, and been chosen for Downbeat’s Best Recording of the Year.
The album was produced by Grammy winner Jim Gaines (Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Luther Allison) and recorded as are most on the label, at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, TX (near El Paso), West Texas being a completely new experience for Keller. The album has ten Keller originals and a cover of the late Aretha Franklin hit, “Baby I Love You.” The Catfood Records “ house band, “ The Rays, lend support. They include soul icon and label owner Bob Trenchard on bass, legendary Motown guitarist Johnny McGhee, Dan Ferguson on keys, Richy Puga on drums, Mike Middleton(trumpet) Nick Flood (tenor/baritone sax) plus backing singers Janelle Thompson and Shakara Weston. Christopher Serrano adds percussion.
Trenchard calls Keller “The most talented songwriter I’ve ever worked with.” High praise indeed and Keller is equally effusive about working with The Rays. “What really impressed me about The Rays was how much heart they put into this record. They’ve played on tons of records, and they could easily have just done it as a paint-by-numbers affair. I love how everyone put so much of themselves into the record. I could tell that they really dug the songs, and really cared about doing them justice. I love how you can hear all their individual ideas on the record, and feel their personalities, their souls, and yet everything is in service to the songs.”
This has been in the making for some time, tracing back to a conversation between Keller, Trenchard, and Rawls five years ago at the Blues Music Awards. You can almost see Keller grinning from the opening track, “Don’t Let Then Take Your Joy,’ claiming the comfort level made for his most dynamic singing yet on record. That’s saying something because his award-winning self-released efforts are excellent too. The horns and B3 welcome in the title track, continuing the upbeat vibe of superb soul songs, as the backup singers carry the chorus. Keller takes guitar solos on five tracks while McGhee takes three of them, heard first, appropriately enough, on the Aretha cover.
”You Bring the Sunshine” takes a ballad tempo, giving way for Ferguson’s brief Wurlitzer solo, as the horns blare in support. “Freedom Is Ours” nods to the many recent protest marches, as Keller launches into an inspired guitar solo and follows with a more measured one on “This is Gonna Hurt.” “it’s All in Your Eyes’’ has a funky groove, and features McGhee’s soulful line guitar lines and on the Memphis-styled “Kiss Me Like You Miss Me.” The album’s longest track, “When Are You Gonna Cry?,” at five and half minutes, has a smoldering build, several dynamic shifts and one of Keller’s best vocals. The rousing “Ain’t Givin’ In” closes a terrific soul album.
Dave Keller will get some BMA notice again with this one.