Jim Keller & Friends @ Colony

When

Fri, Feb 9, 2024    
8:00 pm

Where

Colony Woodstock NY
22 Rock City Rd, Woodstock, New York

Event Type

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Jim Keller has released his new album Spark & Flame, the follow-up to his highly-praised 2021 release By No Means. The man that was once the lead guitarist and songwriter of San Francisco band Tommy Tutone, (“867-5309/Jenny”) – and later, improbably, spent years managing Phillip Glass – Keller has found himself in the midst of a bona fide late-career renaissance.
For the past 15 years, Keller has organized weekly jam sessions in New York, first in the back of a carpet factory in Williamsburg, and, more recently, in a rental rehearsal room in a warehouse building underneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. As if by magic – but really, thanks to Keller’s great tunes and warm comradeship with fellow musicians – those gigs have attracted a stunning roster of rock luminaries. Many have stayed for the album-recording sessions; Keller played and recorded, among others, with producer Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Paul McCartney), guitarists David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) and Marc Ribot (Elvis Costello) and bassist Byron Isaacs (The Lumineers), who is also his songwriting partner.
One of Keller’s most constant allies is Adam Minkoff, a New York composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire. Minkoff has a good feel for Keller’s material, but over the years, he noticed a pattern – cool songs got played once at a jam and then disappeared. Keller’s last record, By No Means – a spare, intimate set of songs produced by Mitchell Froom – was made up of the material that Minkoff had never heard before. After a while, he wondered, ‘What happened to those other songs?’
One day, Minkoff made a home demo of a Keller tune that he especially liked, “Spark & Flame.” He sent it to Keller, who responded enthusiastically and said, “We’ve got to make a record!” The result is Keller’s new album.
For Keller there’s no time to waste. “If I don’t do this stuff now, when am I going to do it? And I love it. It’s ridiculous to me to be in a room with other musicians…” Keller is a man making up for lost time. He came back to songwriting 17 years ago, in his early fifties, after stepping away from music-making for a decade.
When Minkoff agreed to produce Keller’s new record, he wanted to make the sound more complex and varied – that is, less guitar-party, more instrumentation and layers. Keller was used to recording live in the studio with minimal overdubs, but he trusted Minkoff. “I gave Adam the keys to the Winnebago and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ He knew where it was going. I didn’t.”
With its eight-note piano line and vocal harmonies, “‘Til The Water Drinks My Bones” is reminiscent of mid-period Beach Boys. “Blue Horizon,” with slide work by Tony Scherr, sounds like a lost Flying Burrito Brothers tune. “Magic” has an instant-classic vibe to it and a gorgeous guitar solo from guest Gerry Leonard. Another standout, “Bells of Notre Dame” is maybe the biggest arrangement of Keller’s solo career, with chiming guitars, echoing piano and mid-tempo verses that build to a soaring chorus. Yet the music retains off-the-cuff touches from Minkoff’s demos; Minkoff himself improvised a nasty guitar solo on opener “Falling Down” and had to learn how to play it for the record.
“I was used to going in and recording my band,” Keller says. “With Adam, there is a clarity of thought. It was, ‘This little part goes here. This little part goes here.’ A couple of tracks on this record are balls-out arranged, and that I love. It was very cool.
”Keller’s voice has never sounded more commanding or full of emotion. Of his previous album, he said, “It’s almost like a character singing those songs. This record, it’s me singing. There’s more sincerity in this record.”
His story is one of storybook-worth return; after early pop stardom and a lot of hard knocks, Keller has arrived at a not-thinking-about-it-too-much attitude—the sort of approach that has often yielded the greatest rock music, from Neil Young to Dylan. He had to let go of the whole thing for a while, make a new life; once free of all the music industry impedimenta and expectations, he could hear the music pipe up from his heart again, and he made it real.
“I can do anything I want now. What do I have to lose?” Keller says. “If I’m in a room and making music that makes everyone smile including myself, we’re doing something right.”