Jim Keller has a rock and roll heart, but his latest album finds him in a more thoughtful mood. The lyrics of most of these songs – co-written by Keller’s longtime collaborator Byron Isaacs — describe trouble either ahead or behind, and the minor key melodies have a beautiful unease to them. Beginning with the dreamy, portentous opening bass notes of “Cali Girl,” the music settles into the perfect twilight atmosphere to consider love’s dangers and setbacks. The songs are sometimes sorrowful (“Count the Rain”) and sometimes whimsical (“I’m So Stupid”), but on every track Keller’s hard luck vocals unwind the stories against the gorgeous backdrop created by the record’s excellent contributing musicians.
Shawn Pelton, Yuval Lion and Pete Thomas all show up on drums and supply a steady and consistent heartbeat. The Holmes Brothers provide background vocals on “Back on Top,” and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo plays electric guitar on the seductive “Walk You Home” and acoustic 8-string on “Never Let You Down” and “Take Me For a Ride,” one of the few unambiguously cheerful tracks. Glenn Patscha is consistently outstanding on keyboards. On “Loving Her Again,” probably the record’s saddest song, his organ solo is the essence of longing and regret. The songs on the record emerged from a few years of A-list jam sessions in Keller’s studio, and those who participated are too numerous to list. But the mesmerizing result is a testament to the respect Keller commands in New York City’s music community.
– Kay Cordtz