Larry Keel is an award-winning flatpicking guitarist and singer/songwriter hailing from Appalachia who takes traditional music and infuses it with modern light, branding it in his own words as ‘experimental folk.’ He has appeared on over 20 albums, 12 of which he produced, and has written songs that have been recorded and performed by distinguished artists including Grammy-award winners Del McCoury and The Infamous Stringdusters.
His latest creation is a solo album titled American Dream, whose every component—from the writing and arranging, to the instrumental and vocal performances, to the recording and production—spring straight from the mind, soul, and hands of the Virginia-born artist. Each of the album’s 10 tracks were composed by Keel and serve as an autobiographical overview of his life and career, as well as the influences and episodes that have shaped his personal perspective along the way.
Reminiscent of Jerry Garcia’s solo album Garcia, Keel plays each instrument on every track of American Dream, giving listeners a unique opportunity to hear the acclaimed acoustic guitar player showcase his mandolin chops, banjo licks, upright bass thump and electric guitar wails. While some tracks are rooted in Keel’s classic bluegrass style, others veer towards poppy folk rock, a couple of tunes are dripping in moody psychedelia, and some have more of a gritty, old-time stomp feel like the single “Try”. “This is just my rock-out way of saying what it’s like to work on all of life’s mysteries and challenges,” Keel explains. “Big, complicated concept, but a simple approach: all you gotta do is ‘try.’ Musically I’m going for that Bo Diddley, syncopated beat... like a grungy, pumped-up blues. I had fun stretching out my limited upright bass skills on this tune, even taking a short solo in one section and doing a picking technique on the strings while I slid my fretting fingers down the neck to make a wild, siren sound.”
Written predominantly during the spring and early summer of 2020, notably during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine period and the nationwide protests that rocked the country in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, the concepts on American Dream synthesize these timely events with Keel’s own experiences, ranging from life on the road to celebrations of family to not-so-veiled commentaries on social injustice and racial inequality. “I guess I wrote myself an anthem! Hopefully it resonates with someone out there,” Keel comments about the title track. “In the song’s opening line I clearly state what I do not want to be as a man, and then proclaim what I am attempting to be: an empathetic, moral and positive person, always striving to do better and to hopefully serve the greater good.”
Ultimately, American Dream serves as a window into the world of Keel’s mind—intense, dreamy, burning—always human, personal, musically masterful, yet inclusive of beautiful flaws.