Dave Keller – Every Soul’s a Star
11 songs, 42:06 minutes
Hailing originally from Massachusetts, Dave Keller arrived in Montpelier, Vermont way back in 1993 and has spent years developing a solid reputation as a talented guitarist, singer and songwriter. He won the 2012 International Blues Challenge Award for Best Self-Released CD for Where I’m Coming From. In 2014, he was nominated for a Blues Music Award for Best Soul/Blues Album for Soul Changes. In 2017, he was in the running for a Downbeat Magazine Reader’s Award for Best Blues Album for Right Back Atcha. He’s played and recorded with soul-blues legend Johnny Rawls, who was responsible for introducing Keller to the folks at Catfood Records. They helped him with the foundational elements for this latest record, including flying him to El Paso, Texas to record with Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines (Van Morrison, Huey Lewis, Luther Allison, Stevie Ray Vaughn), and hooking him up with the Catfood “house band,” The Rays, who back him – very capably – on this record. The resulting 11 tracks – ten of which are Keller originals – are some very solid – and well-recorded – soul blues and blues rock offerings.
Says Keller about the experience, “Jim Gaines is a magician. He really listened to my songs, really got into the meaning of the lyrics, and was able to help me and the band bring them alive with the most heart possible. He’s an expert at making songs really shine. I felt blessed to get to work with him.” He added, “This record, for me, is about honoring the star in each person…” He continued, “The songs are about both love and heartbreak, of course, but also speak about the beauty in each of us, as unique individuals and as people standing up together. This record feels like my strongest yet. I felt more at ease singing than I’ve ever felt in the studio. That comfort helped me sing more dynamically than I’ve ever sung before on record.”
Geller’s songwriting on this effort fall squarely into the soul blues category, and if you like folks like Robert Cray, Delbert McClinton, Bobby Bland, Curtis Salgado, and even late 60s Temptations, this album definitely deserves a listen. The songs are well-crafted, the performances solid, and the vocals strong and evocative. Repeated listenings to this record have not dimmed my enthusiasm for it. The 11 songs hang together nicely as a collection, but there are a couple of standouts worth mention.
The opening track, “Don’t Let Them Take Your Joy,” with its powerful horn intro and tasty guitar figure could have easily been recorded by late 60s-era Temptations. Every Soul’s a Star carries an upbeat message of tolerance and appreciation for the individual differences that define us all.
“Baby, I Love You,” a Ronnie Shannon song originally covered by Aretha Franklin back in 1967, is just dripping with a deep funky groove that gets its hooks into and just won’t let go! Johnny McGhee’s tasty outro solo could have (should have) easily been extended for another dozen or so measures, and I certainly wouldn’t have been disappointed.
“Freedom Is Ours” features some tasty, plaintive lead playing by Keller, on a song that tackles some tough current-day issues, in particular the rising tide of authoritarianism that we’re now witnessing all the globe.
“This Is Gonna Hurt” is a minor key, mid-tempo shuffle with a strong backbeat and a solid horn arrangement. It showcases Keller’s solid songwriting chops, with a simple, tasteful solo that fits right in with the melancholy feel of the song.
“It’s All In Your Eyes” is a terrific song, with a strong, funky groove, and features another one of Johnny McGhee’s understated, yet very tasty solos. All kidding aside, I think I’m going to have to incorporate this song into my own sets… I like it THAT much!
“Kiss Me Like You Miss Me” has echoes of the Mad Man from Macon, Stax-era Otis Redding, and features the third of McGhee’s tasty solos, accompanied by some sweet B3 courtesy of Dan Ferguson. Another very solid song and performance!
All in all, Every Soul’s a Star is a wonderful collection of very solid songs and great performances that draw on the deep roots of soul music, with lyrics that reflect the uncertain times in which we live. With a little luck, this will be an album that gets noticed come award time, because it certainly deserves to!