Listening to Kyle Keller’s new album The Great American Highway, you get the sense that Roger Miller and Tom T. Hall would approve of the songs from this Gainesville, Florida native, even if nobody else does. You also get the sense this would be good enough for Kyle Keller, even if both of these guys are dead, leaving his audience even thinner. But sometimes it’s the obscurity and fey nature of music that enhances its beauty. That’s certainly the case here.
As Kyle Keller says in the opening song of the album, “Sometimes I just want to quit singing songs. I hate my voice and my songs are too long. The songs are too slow they put folks to sleep. I guess no one cares to know what they mean.” As true as all of this may be for general audiences, those who actually care about songs don’t take this as a warning, they take it as a reason to continue listening, and more intently. That patience and attention is rewarded on The Great American Highway.
Kyle Keller’s voice might be a little sleepy and the instrumentation might be sparse for the most part, but the songwriting and it’s immersive aspect endure, even though some lines strain to rhyme. The enveloping nature of Keller’s stories, his generally endearing approach and delivery, along with the little life lessons imparted put all the other concerns for this project aside.
The Great American Highway is a traveler’s record and a road record if there ever was one. It features some of the talk singing that is native to these kinds of albums, including in the title track, and later in the fun-written “Stick’s Blues” chronicling the adventures of a walking stick traversing the United States and all of the wisdom it gains along the way. There is certainly a Route 66 aspect to some of these tracks.
The album is also filled with important little affirmations about being yourself and following your heart, regardless of the often superficial or adverse outcomes, with the most important thing being that you endure and hold onto yourself, at least until you die with a life fulfilled from following your purpose. There are also some important ruminations on the nature of time and not allowing oneself to waste it by doing things you don’t want to do.
But the slow and dour nature of this album should not be undersold. Kyle Keller invokes the most severe aspects of Hank Williams and Edgar Allan Poe in the pretty devastating “This Town’s Gonna Swallow You Whole.” Then he takes it even further in the final song on the album about losing someone you love, “Why Would God Steal?” Overall, this is a moody and gloomy work, though one that searches and yearns for inner peace, while also conferring and appreciation for life’s bounties and discovery.
Instead of grousing about his relative obscurity or compromising his musical approach in an effort to resolve it, Kyle Keller doubles down on what’s fulfilling to himself in The Great American Highway. If the audience finds some appeal in it as well, even better. Along with goading you to go out and explore the wide expanse of America, pursuing your passions is the message that underpins Kyle Keller’s songs, while also practicing what he preaches.
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