Key West Chris – All The Best From Key West – Album Review
“Music from Key West and The Florida Keys!”
Say what you like…whether KWC is suited to your style or personal taste aside, this man’s extremely well organized, professional, and downright flawless when it comes to how he’s executed & performed the songs on All The Best From Key West. I certainly can’t find any faults – but what I do find quite often, is the remarkable instrumentation that makes magic throughout the bulk of this record, just like you’ll find from the lefts to the rights on the playful sound of “Dockside Bar” as the album begins. The amount of character, charm, and personality in KWC’s music can’t be denied here…LISTEN to just how many essential elements like the piano, the harmonica, and the backup vocals play a role on “Dockside Bar” – everything is jammin’ here at full strength right off the bat. As a result, you end up right in KWC’s world of sound quickly, immersed in his signature storytelling-style and playful musical vibes beckoning you to join in on the fun – “Dockside Bar” is an excellent gateway into All The Best From Key West and immediately introduces you to the high-level of songwriting, musicianship, and execution you’ll find on this album. “Dockside Bar” might very well borrow a lot from the Blues if you were to examine the roots of what forms this tree of sound, but the up-tempo pace and inviting, laidback atmosphere that KWC and his crew of surrounding talent in the band playing with him bring to the music add insightful layers of Pop/Folk/Golden-Era vibes into the mix to prevent the song from being too much of any one thing at any one time. Embracing a hybrid nature of sound that allows for theatrical, dramatic, and engaging narratives in the lyrics & tales told – Key West Chris expertly weaves styles together in this highly engaging opening tune that uses expression, character, personality, and many details to its advantage.
While a track like “21st Century Kinda Girl” and I might seem far removed from each other for what I might normally listen to…we’re actually not – this is more or less built on a sound that I can relate to quite a bit & grew up on to a large degree. My old man was in the Canadian band Doug And The Slugs for about a decade or so, and the way Key West Chris keeps the fun flowing and the sound glowing on “21st Century Kinda Girl” brought me right back to those days of my youth. You can hear how this tune would fit right onto an album with other Doug And The Slugs hits like “Too Bad,” “Rusty Bus,” “Let The Jelly Roll” – and really, a song like “21st Century Kinda Girl” isn’t far removed from sounds you know you love already in other artists like John Mellencamp, Dire Straits, or The Boss himself. It’s more laidback & chill than those comparisons due to the easygoing Key West Chris style we’re becoming so quickly familiar with, but it’s still rooted in the classics of what’s made music great throughout the years, flexing many of the same dynamics in the songwriting & structure that are bound to appeal to similar fans. What I love in particular when it comes to songs as smoothly designed as “21st Century Girl” are, is that the people out there listening can completely access this…like there’s a way in for just about every set of ears here…and that’s quite an accomplishment & achievement when you consider all you’re hearing in the makeup of songs like this. You can see it in the credits if you can’t hear it, believe me – but when it comes right down to it, a song like “21st Century Kinda Girl” has the shiny sound & inspired movement that brilliantly masks the more progressive ingredients. As in, KWC is able to stuff these songs with so much more than people will likely realize…musicians will, but the everyday listener is simply going to dig on an easygoing vibe and catchy sound that audibly seems effortless in all the right ways…comfortable.
Listen to the way the ambient surroundings open up “Yeah, A Harbor” – and how quickly that helps establish the watery imagery in ways you can feel as this plays on. Key West Chris has really got his own niche goin’ on…I can understand that a lot of what he’s up to on this record is somewhat against the grain of a lot of what you’ll find out there in the music-scene right now, but there’s always an inherent value in going your own way too. When you listen to tunes like “Yeah, A Harbor,” and KWC’s signature storytelling style that mixes great details with subtle, insightful humor & descriptive nostalgia along the way…I think you gotta admire how the balance between worlds really works in his favor. He’s not nearly all jokes to the point where you’d label him has a comedian by a long shot…though when he puts in a clever line here & there, it’s bound to make you smile or even giggle a little bit – but he’s not too serious in any one direction when it comes to what he writes about either, and that keeps the entertainment value shining on a record like this. It comes down to the really clever imagery in the details of his words and the ability KWC’s got to communicate them with us…and you can count his enthusiasm, passion, and clear willingness to express himself through music as an equal part of what makes a song like “Yeah, A Harbor” and the surrounding material on All The Best From Key West as universally appealing as it is. For the most part, with its sliding guitars and the more fragile core at the heart of this melody, “Yeah, A Harbor,” almost comes out sounding more downtrodden by comparison to the rest of what you’ll hear on this record…and perhaps it’s fair to describe it as a more serious moment on the record overall in that respect…but I still feel like the authenticity in how Key West Chris approaches making his music is going to win people over no matter what style, tempo, mood, or sound we find him playing around with. At just-over six-minutes in length, it’s an adventure and a commitment for sure – but again, it’s the details you’ll find in the writing, both the music & the lyrics, that continually keep you listening intently without question; and given that the execution is always flawless…I mean…it’s kinda hard to complain.
“Got that joie de vivre” when it comes to “Island Ladies,” yessir – Key West Chris & Co. raise the degree of accessibility massively with this fourth cut on the record and bring the energy back to the music. There are lots of things to love about this cut…the flute is fantastic, the warm glow from the organ/keys fills this whole song in perfectly, the lead vocals are some of the best you’ll find from KWC on this record, filled with flair, swagger, style, and definitely some of the most catchy hooks you’ll find on this album. As per the high-standard he’s set along the journey so far, the lyrics feature Key West Chris’ ability to bring you right into the story through a stunning level of detail and imagery in his words that not only provides the pictures for your mind, but also continually sounds bang-on for what suits this song. I think a track like this actually speaks quite a bit on KWC’s behalf…”Island Ladies” is the kind of tune you can hear could potentially make that crossover jump…like, just close your eyes for a moment and imagine a band like The Strokes getting a hold of this song and how they’d be able to make this work in their own style…that’s the kind of crossover potential I’m talking about here. As different as the sound between KWC and The Strokes may be – the core of what makes “Island Ladies” great and how the song itself moves, has much more in common than you might think; the ultimate point is that when you’ve got a cut like this on your hands, it can theoretically live multiple exciting lives…you never know. With so many great players & musicians on this record, it’s nearly unfair to single-out any one of them on their own because they are truly ALL so good and ALL on top of their game…BUT…if you were to pin me down for what makes this particular song as exceptional as it is, I gotta hand the award to Emily Randle on the violin – she puts in an amazing performance on “Island Ladies,” through & through. Playing on the inside of the vocal-melody, she essentially works in tandem with KWC’s lead-vocals in a call & answer style between the singing & instrumentation that completely works brilliantly, together they prove that any note from the violin can be just as captivating as any word you’ll hear on the mic. “Island Ladies” sounds SNAZZY folks! I’d be willing to bet this tune comes back as universally loved by the people out there listening…and if I were KWC, I’d be looking at this song specifically as a single to put out & bring even more ears in to listen to what he’s up to in the studio & shining sunshine of The Keys.
Lemme tell ya folks, very few albums out there are this close to as advertised. You can hear right away from the way that “Local Island Bar” starts up the easygoing sound & inviting atmosphere that Key West Chris is here for a good time – and that he’s willing to take each & every one of us with him on that journey, by bringing the people a lil’ taste of The Keys direct, through music. Laidback & chilled-out, yet still completely stocked full of outstanding & noticeable musicianship, Key West Chris definitely has his own vibe goin’ on…and I can imagine a lot of people out there will connect quickly to the bright & sunny disposition of his style of Beach Americana…Island Americana…Florida Keys Music…call it what you like – just have a listen and see what this clever songwriter has got to offer you & your ears. Listen to the melody in the vocals hit its stride around the 2:30 mark…listen to the all-out fabulous instrumentation that takes over as the song heads into its third-minute…everything flows as fluidly as water and sounds just about as inviting as you could imagine music could be. And that’s the REAL key of Key West Chris if you ask me…believe me when I say, the music is on-point here, well-played, performed & all-that – but when it comes right down to it, these songs are almost a vehicle for the lyricism…the man’s extremely gifted when it comes to penning words to a tune and “Local Island Bar” immediately puts that skill in the spotlight. To ensure a victory with everything he’s personally bringing to the music through his voice & guitar, KWC has also enlisted an entire crew of ace-talent in the studio to help bring these songs to life; not even remotely kidding, this list of names would span the length of your arm. All that being said, you can’t argue the methods of the madness when the results come out this focused and professional when it’s all said & done. These players ALL deserve a shout-out for giving Key West Chris everything they got when it comes to each of these songs – you can hear the unity between them on the way they play “Local Island Bar” and the fact that the whole lineup of songs on this record has come out shining bright. This second to last tune actually owns the final two spots as it returns to end the record in a more epic version that flushes out even more of the storyline on the “Theatrical” version of the song at the end of All The Best From Key West. While the majority of the song remains true to the original, the added dialogue sets the mood and gives the final results a different dimension. Ultimately, “Local Island Bar” is a set of pleasant vibes that are going to reach ears no matter what form it’s in…and that feeling of togetherness & celebration that you get from this song is completely intact in both versions. The violins are still gorgeous, KWC still brings his A-game to the mic and to the lyricism you’ll find on “Local Island Bar (Theatrical)” – I’ve got no objections to this quaint & highly imaginative track making a second appearance in such a short set…there’s always a little bit of risk involved in that formula & the potential to wear a particular song out more quickly than the rest, but I felt like this cut continually held up strong with its sunny-side sound. The final dialogue on “Local Island Bar” and the ambient waves crashing in behind the couple as they talk, reveal that the party really never stops over there in The Keys, with the authentic chants of multiple people now singing the music they were just listening to as we exit the record. Clever ending – but face facts, Key West Chris has been on his game throughout this whole entire charming set of songs too…it’s likely not too close to anything like what you’re typically hearing out there in the world right now in many ways, and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by just how quickly you’ll ease right into listening to the full line-up of tunes on All The Best From Key West.
Find out more about Key West Chris at Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/keywestchris