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Keller Williams with the Travelin' McCourys

Pick – 2012 (Sci-Fidelity)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Keller Williams with the Travelin' McCourys

It sometimes turns out that collaborations between artists from different genres (even if they're not that widely divergent) turn out not to be as good an idea as they seemed at first. Thankfully, this pairing of iconoclastic Nashville singer-songwriter Keller Williams with bluegrass stalwarts the Travelin' McCourys (the Del McCoury Band minus Del: sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Robbie (banjo), with fiddler par excellence Jason Carter and bassist Alan Bartram) works pretty well on a number of levels.

Arrangements lean toward the progressive side at times, but there's enough straight-ahead 'grass to satisfy the diehard McCoury fans (and Ronnie continues to sound more and more hauntingly like his dad). It's just about the most solid and accomplished band in the business.

The concept of the album is storytelling through both Williams' own songs and covers ranging from Steve Earle's Graveyard Shift to Brit pop singer-songwriter Jessie J's Price Tag. To get a sense of Williams' off-center style, look no farther than a track list featuring titles like Mullet Cut and I Am Elvis. Standouts include Bumper Sticker (on which Del himself sits in) and Sexual Harassment, which Williams somehow manages to turn into a good-natured romantic ballad. That's pretty good writing. To say that Williams can indulge in stream-of-consciousness becomes especially ironic with Broken Convertible, a song about and for those of us who lie awake at night wondering, as Williams says, how much a gallon of water weighs.

Far from the incessant navel-gazing common among the singer-songwriter crowd, Williams and the McCourys offer a light-hearted, if occasionally twisted (the girlfriend who drowns in a still in What A Waste) take on the art of telling stories through song.