Keller & The Keels, a trio teaming Keller Williams with progressive flatpicker Larry Keel and bassist Jenny Keel, pull off a top-notch bluegrass cover of Kacey Musgraves’ “Slow Burn.” The hyperactive revision highlights Williams and his collaborators’ covers-heavy new album, Speed.
“Slow Burn” deserves top billing because it’s a must-hear for Musgraves fans, with or without interest in the more experimental side of modern bluegrass. Yet it’s not the only light-hearted, well-executed, and grassed-up cover song on Speed.
Other cross-genre covers include a funky, psychedelic take on Nicki Bluhm and The Gamblers’ “Little Too Late” and bluesy reinventions of two very different pop-rock standards: “Criminal” by Fiona Apple and The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.”
Quirkier selections performed without a hint of irony include a version of Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” made delightfully weird by gruff background vocals and a whimsical retread of the already bizarre “Peaches” by The Presidents of the United States.
Buoyant, pop-friendly takes on The Strumbellas’ “Spirit,” Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and a more obvious Weezer hit, “Island in the Sun,” come across as genuine nods to unlikely source material. That is to say, no one will confuse Williams with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes after investigating some of his stranger song choices.
The three-piece whipped up a trio of originals to round out the album. The best of these, the swampy “Lizard Lady,” joins the reggae-meets-bluegrass stew of “Medulla Oblongata” and folk-rock story-song “Do It On The Strings” as brief examples of how Williams and the Keel family stray far from hardcore bluegrass’ stringent barriers with a level of musicianship that deserves old-timers’ applause.
While the entire album delivers foot-stomping instrumentation and non-stop smiles, the viral possibilities of “Slow Burn” as a sped-up bluegrass song cannot be stressed enough. With the right momentum, this could become nearly as big outside of bluegrass and country circles as The Gourds’ sincere yet hilarious cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.”