Dave Keller – You Get What You Give: Duets
This past year of racial unrest in the United States seemed to exacerbate some old feelings of bitterness in the blues community related to appropriation of black culture by white blues artists. If ever there was a time when a record of solidarity was needed, it is now, and that is what Vermont’s Soul and Blues musician, Dave Keller, put together with his latest project. His CD, You Get What You Give: Duets, is dedicated to the Black musicians who mentored and befriended him, “sharing their gifts so kindly and selflessly”. And, all the money from album sales is being donated to groups working for racial justice and equality
With many diverse singers, covering several different styles, Keller crafted a unique compilation of duets, starting with a feel-good duet with the talented Annika Chambers, “One More Tear”. Mark Earley’s saxophone and Tom Palance’s trumpet complete the classic soul sound to this song. The initial “feel good” mood continues with Washington DC’s own Carly Harvey on “That Thing You Do,” a song about feeling like an outcast, but finding acceptance in another.
While the songwriting is excellent on most of this album, the most powerfully written and performed song is “The Evil That Men Do”. More than a duet, Annika Chambers, Trudy Lynne, Annie Mack, Johnny Rawls and Keller take turns to sing verses about racial injustice, referencing “the bodies in the river, the bodies hanging in the trees, and the bodies on the pavement being crushed beneath the knee…I know you feel it too, the evil that men do”. The quiet background, with only piano and a haunting trumpet solo compel you to listen closely to the emotionally delivered and moving lyrics.
Joe Louis Walker’s contribution helps the album take a blusier turn, with “Scratchin’ At Your Door,” followed by several inspirational songs, including Dawn Tyler Watson’s contribution, “God is Love, God is Everything” and Keller’s only solo song, “The Spark”. The bleakness of the COVID-19 pandemic is accurately captured in Keller’s duet with Chad Hollister, “Make It To Tomorrow.” While the song with the catchiest “hook”, (when Keller joins his mentor Johnny Rawls for “Land of the Lonely)” is equally powerfully written.
This album also includes collaborations with Annie Mack, Trudy Lynn, Brother Bob White, Katie Henry, and an unusual choice of spoken word by Toussaint St. Negritude, accompanied by Keller on acoustic blues guitar and harmonica. There is truly not a bad cut on the album, with the only negative aspects being that the lyrics are not included in the liner notes, and the song choice for Dawn Tyler Watson didn’t showcase just how amazing her voice really is. On his show, “Different Shades of Blue” Joe Bonamassa once mentioned that he wished blues artists would focus once again on writing truly great lyrics. It appears that Dave Keller has met that challenge, all while benefiting a great cause.