It makes sense that Larry Keel would decide to play every ounce of instrumentation on American Dream himself. He also handled its arrangements and production. It’s a move congruent with the thematic ideas waving as proudly here as Old Glory on the Fourth of July.
For the last 25 years, Keel has brought his Blue Ridge sensibilities and flatpicking excellence to bear on a wide array of projects — from his own bands (The Experience, Natural Bridge) to a recording with his brother to collaborations with the likes of Keller Williams, Curtis Burch, and Del McCoury. On quarantine-born project American Dream, Keel keeps it all in-house for an impressive LP that feels like a culmination of his experience and expertise.
American Dream finds Keel honestly exploring — even wrestling — with his place in the wider world. The title track opens with his thesis: “I don’t want to grow up to be another angry old white guy / Self-important, all wrapped up in a white lie … I don’t want to grow up in a world that’s filled with hate / I’d rather look at our differences and relate.” His stated goal is to help others achieve their own “American Dream.”
The title track is the first of several on American Dream to find Keel striving to come out of this global pandemic a better artist, a better friend, a better citizen. Keel reminds us on “Mother Nature” that “we can’t live without her” and reflects on the lessons we can glean from Father Time, all the while captivating the listener with stellar work on both banjo and acoustic guitar. “Try,” with its incredible acoustic solo, chronicles the struggles to reach such lofty goals of “trying to right all my wrongs.”
If Keel’s approach sounds preachy, it’s not. It’s also not as heavy-handed as it likely sounds. “Old Friends” tips a hat to the birds who daily visit his homestead, while “Precious Times (Aby’s Song)” appreciates the beauty of the present moment. Instead of pointing fingers, Keel keeps all arms inside the vehicle here, a singer-songwriter simply speaking his truth — nothing more, nothing less.