Keller Williams

On first listen, it's easy to dismiss Keller Williams as a novelty act. In addition to being one of the few ten-string guitarists out there, Williams also plays his patented "mouth flugel" (basically puffing out trumpetlike sounds from his lips). And with his recorded takes on the Sanford and Son theme and instrumentals with titles like "God Is My Palm Pilot," who wouldn't write off his musical approach as pure shtick?

While Williams is guilty of a sense of humor, so was Frank Zappa. Once you get to know either of those musicians, though, ultimately it's talent that shines through.

Williams effortlessly churns out mildly psychedelic and extremely percussive guitar arrangements that showcase pop leanings fused with a penchant for consistent innovation. Think a more personable Stanley Jordan. Lyrically, the sky's the limit as Williams uses Leo Kottkean wordplay and funny refrains to make his originals as catchy as they are memorable.

Thanks to sharing bills with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, Williams has found a home on the jam band circuit. But let's not lump the guy in with the likes of colorless improv bands like Widespread Panic. While his gift for extemporization is certainly on par with that of his tie-dyed peers, Williams's musical imagination and lyrical sense of lyrical absurdity place him on another plane altogether. Which is saying a lot for a guy who uses his own lips for a horn section.

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Mike Emery