Pick, is a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts—although the parts are rather massive on their own, to be sure. Recorded at Nashville’s famed Butcher Shoppe studios, the album’s dozen songs (both originals and covers) fully realize Americana music’s long storytelling tradition, and the impeccable musicianship displayed on Pick captures all of the heart and heartache of the bluegrass genre—and then some: Williams’ unconventional songwriting takes on even greater weight when backed by The Travelin’ McCourys’ emotive tones. Inspired by Keller’s fearless creativity, The Travelin’ McCourys’ flawless playing gains new depth.
“We like to play traditional bluegrass music the way we do it with Dad, but we also like to be able to step into situations where we can really stretch out,” Ronnie told JamBase. “If we need to plug in, we’ll plug in. We’re open to anything.”
That they were open to teaming with Keller Williams is no surprise. Over the course of his two-decade career, Williams has ceaselessly followed his singular muse, both in a live setting—where he might accompany himself on any number of instruments and electronics—and in the studio, where he’s recorded everything from reggae to rock to experimental music to children’s songs to, of course, bluegrass. Thief, Keller’s 2010 recording with the Keels, reached number #1 on Billboard’s bluegrass chart while last year’s Bass found him utilizing only that instrument throughout the album. Predictability? Not in his vocabulary.
On Pick, Keller Williams—armed this time only with acoustic guitar and a microphone—and The Travelin’ McCourys shine on a dozen tracks that perfectly demonstrate their collective reach, including several new Williams and band-written originals and a handful of surprise but choice covers, including My Morning Jacket’s “Amazed,” Steve Earle’s “The Graveyard Shift” and singer-songwriter Jessie J’s “Price Tag.” The album’s finale, Williams’ “Bumper Sticker,” benefits from a special guest appearance by the man himself, the 73-year-old legend Del McCoury. While the familiar elements of both Keller’s and the McCourys’ music are all in place, the sound that emerges from the troupe collectively takes all of the participants into fresh musical places, where tunefulness meets mystery, virtuosity, daring and a blast of a good time.
Pick is about good pickin’, but it’s about something more: what transpires when two seemingly disparate musical entities find that they have something special to say when they join forces. Pick will surely go down as one of the top picks of 2012 by many an awestruck fan and discriminating critic.