Ethan Keller – Dead Man Dancing (2016)

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The suddenly prolific Ethan Keller’s first product from his successful Kickstarter crowdfunding drive is now out. The first of a fistful of releases, Dead Man Dancing is the promised “solo” album, which he made with little outside help and demo-lean arrangements. Explains Keller, “I just want to let some songs be raw.”

Put another way, we get to hear the multi-talented singer-songwriter from Milwaukee with that singer-songwriter part of him in stark focus. A skilled confessional composer, there’s joy and sorrow in its title that’s reflected by the music itself. With little more than acoustic guitar, his voice with some harmonies sometimes tracked in, there’s not production behind Dead Man Dancing, but that’s kind of the point: when you strip all that away, the soul of the musician is bared.

When we peer inside Keller’s musical soul, all the things he’s known for become ever more apparent. His knack for hooks are all over this album of nine originals and he’s just as capable being himself even when there’s virtually no one but himself.

He grooves without any percussion on “The Jester,” easily reels off a singsong mid-century rural troubadour ditty “Home Sweet Highway” and strongly evokes early Joni Mitchell’s sophisticated folk on “Ahead of the Curve Behind The Times.” Even his hip-hop influences seep into the cadence of his vocal phrasing on “Heavenly Body” which features jazz chords, scatting, a little trumpet from Travis Drow and the lyrical wit of Michael Franks.

Speaking of jazz, an instrumental version of “The Jester” is tagged onto the end. Here, the soulfully soothing sax of Jason Goldsmith that played an accompanying role in the original completely replaces the singing. It’s beatnik cool.

Dead Man Dancing is Ethan Keller up close and personal, warts and all. And you know what? He’s still sounding good.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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