(Tastee Tone Records, CD)
Since moving to Vermont in 1993, guitarist and vocalist Dave Keller has been regarded as a local blues monster. His impressive catalog of releases over the years has only served to bolster that notion. From his debut 1993 cassette, Deep Down in My Soul, through 2007’s Play for Love, Keller has continually cemented his reputation as one of the state’s finest blues musicians. Now, with the release of a new record of R&B covers, Where I’m Coming From, Keller stakes his claim to be mentioned among the Green Mountains’ great soul voices, as well.
That declaration of intent begins with the R&B classic “More Than I Can Stand.” Keller’s crack backing band, the Revelations, set the stage with a bustling run of exultant horns and swaggering guitar. Keller steps to the mic sounding as confident and self-assured as ever, lending Bobby Womack’s tune the requisite pleading immediacy. Here, Keller is every bit the anguished soul crooner. But he displays veteran savvy by reining in vocal acrobatics and overwrought soul affectations in favor of a more measured approach that allows both his vocal and guitar lines room to breathe.
Keller stays true to that approach throughout the majority of the record. His treatment of the George Jackson-Raymond Moore-penned “If I Ever Got You Back” is nuanced and tasteful, as are his versions of classics such as Earl Wright and Deadric Malone’s funk-soul charmer “Are You Going Where I’m Coming From,” Robert Ward’s sweetly touching “Strictly Reserved For You,” and Don Davis and J.J. Barnes’ “Baby Please Come Back Home.”
As impressive as Keller’s vocal performances usually are, his guitar work is equally remarkable. His woozy call-and-response lead on “Steppin’ Out” is incendiary without becoming distracting. On “Are You Going Where I’m Coming From” he forms an airtight groove with bassist Josh Werner and keyboardist Ethan White that allows the rest of the Revelations to soar in a shimmering wash of horns and backing vocals. And his lines on album closer “If It’s Really Got to Be This Way” are clean, efficient and perfectly understated, making the song a fitting finale to a tremendous effort.
Dave Keller was already something of a local institution. But with Where I’m Coming From, he is on his way to being a local legend.
Dave Keller celebrates the release of Where I’m Coming From this Friday, September 9, at Positive Pie 2 in Montpelier.