ALBUM REVIEW: Larry Keel's Experienced
Words By Mitch Melheim
I have to admit, upon seeing the list of guests on this album, it immediately became my most anticipated release of the winter. Always innovative and pushing boundaries, I was eager to see what type of magic Larry Keel could pull of with a list of guests that included Keller Williams, Del McCoury, and Sam Bush.
Fittingly enough, the album is named Experienced as he returns with his usual Larry Keel Experience band members, Will Lee, on banjo and vocals, and Larry’s wife, Jenny Keel, providing both the bass line and some beautiful harmonies.
The album wastes no time as it starts with one of the standout tracks, “Ripchord." Featuring Newgrass legend and pioneer, Sam Bush, on both mandolin and fiddle, this instrumental makes you want to dance no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Bush provides us with both great violin and mandolin solos, yet composer Will Lee’s banjo proved to be the most impressive sounding of the four tremendous players on this song.
The second track, “Lil’ Miss” begins with a very funky intro before we hear Keel’s voice for the first time. A man of many voices, Keel uses his more deep and gravely style for this song about “little miss can’t be wrong." Will Lee shines bright again with a couple of modulated banjo explorations.
The album slows down a bit with the beautiful song, “Memories.” The song touches on the power of memories and the range of emotions they bring. I thought Keel’s approach to the song was inspiring as he chooses not to dwell on the memories, but to “wake up and start a day full of memories.”
“Fill ‘Em Up Again” proves to be the most traditional Bluegrass track on the album with a tremendous list of guests that includes Del McCoury and bandmate, Jason Carter, on guitar and fiddle, as well as Steep Canyon Rangers’ mandolinist, Mike Guggino. This is a fun song about drinking with that signature Del McCoury Band sound brought by Carter’s pretty, yet screechy violin solos, and McCoury’s trademark vocals on the chorus.
The next song, “Miles and Miles,” features Keller Williams on guitar and providing some harmony on Keel’s best sounding vocal track of the album. This is another standout track as it is an absolute pleasure listening to these two incredibly talented guitarists weave in and out of one another throughout the song. As you know if you’re familiar with the side project, Keller and the Keels, these two have remarkable chemistry together and this song only cements that belief for me.
“The Warrior” is one of my favorites, and easily the darkest and most psychedelic song on the album. “The Warrior” has a very tribal sound that I can’t help but relate to an Aztec warrior feel because of the name. This is the deepest we hear Keel sing on the album and it couldn’t accompany neither the instruments, nor Peter Rowan’s vocal harmonies, any better. Rowan also provides haunting percussion, with what is likely the most interesting collaboration on the album.
The final song on the album, “Another Summer Day,” features Greensky Bluegrass’s Anders Beck on dobro and Jeff Covert on percussion. While a great sing along song, it also provides the twang that’s to be expected with this collaboration.
To say that this album lived up to it’s hype would be an understatement. Every guest was utilized in a way that showcased their most impressive talents, yet this still clearly felt like a Larry Keel album the whole way through. That is not only the most impressive feat of the album to me, but also why I continue to anticipate and listen to Keel’s work after fifteen albums.