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Record Review - 2 February 20 2002

For a guitarist who found his largest audience opening for the jam-heavy String Cheese Incident and who spontaneously breaks into Grateful Dead tunes at will, acoustic whiz kid Keller Williams is remarkably focused, concise and even self-deprecating on his fifth self-released studio album. While touches of Garcia are evident, Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges remain more obvious references for his nimble staccato picking and jumpy fret-board gymnastics.

While Williams' creative looping approximates a one-man band in concert, Laugh employs a conventional drummer and bassist to better flesh out the compositions. Some tracks — like the a cappella, multi-overdubbed gibberish of "God is My Palm Pilot" — probably bring down the house live, yet they're annoying in their affected playfulness on album. Williams fares on the bluegrass/swing-laced "Bob Rules," a story about an imaginary appearance on "The Price Is Right."

Like Paul Simon at his most mischievous, Williams' voice exudes a natural, playful quality. He seems to employ words simply for their alliterative sound — especially on "Gallivanting" ("eager electricity, eating eccentricity") — keeping the album's tone blithe and breezy.

The result is music that's hard to hate, even if its goofy tendencies tend to shortchange Williams' remarkable instrumental prowess. It won't make you chuckle out loud, but Laugh should generate a smile — even from the most studious guitar shred-head.

Keller Williams plays the Variety Playhouse Thurs., Feb. 21.??