Singer-songwriter-guitarist Lance Keltner has been making bluesy, personally charged rock ’n’ roll for more than three decades, earning an international reputation as both a vivid, insightful writer and a singularly charismatic performer.
But the period that produced Keltner’s newest album, Lance Keltner & Nuevo Retro, offered some unique challenges for the artist, who nonetheless rose to the occasion to create some of the most accomplished music of his career.
“We hadn’t toured in a while, and I was starting to wonder if we would ever go out and do this again,” Keltner explains. “And then I contracted COVID in January 2021. At the time, I was convinced that I might die, and I think the hospital staff was right there with me on that. But then, on the fifth night I was in the hospital, I had an incredible spiritual experience that changed everything for me.
“At three AM that night, my room lit up,” he continues. “I can't really describe it, but I felt elated, and I was at total peace. A voice clearly told me that I was not going to die in that place. It also told me to never touch alcohol again, and that if I made music my priority again, everything else would fall into place. After that, we signed a new recording contract with NTK Records. I took two months to recover, and then we cut 15 songs in two weeks. So I lived, and I think that I made the best record I’ve ever done.”
The 15-song Lance Keltner & Nuevo Retro combines some riveting new material with vibrant new readings of some beloved songs from Keltner’s prior releases. Given the experience recounted above, it’s not surprising that the new album marks a personal and creative rebirth for the artist and his longstanding bandmates—Cole Hanson (guitar and vocals), Michael Moyer (bass and vocals), Jeff Howard (drums) and Matt Parmenter (keyboards)—surveying some of Keltner’s prior musical achievements, while looking to the future.
Throughout its new and vintage material, Lance Keltner & Nuevo Retro maintains the same organic, immediate vibe that’s always distinguished the Oklahoma-bred, Austin-based Keltner’s work. Such timelessly punchy tunes as “Loves Like Abilene,” “Grace,” and “Streets of New Orleans” provide a compelling showcase for Keltner’s deeply expressive vocals and stirring guitar work, as well as his band’s bracing musical chemistry.
“I feel like the band and I have really done our best work here, and this album shows how we’ve all grown, as musicians and as people,” Keltner asserts. “I like the records we’ve done in the past, but we often had limited time and had to rush them. This time, we insisted on taking the time to make the record that we wanted to make, which is something we never really had the opportunity to do before.
“This album is truly representative of who I am as an artist, who we’ve become as people and the things that we care about,” he continues. “Cole, Mike and myself have always felt strongly about human rights and tried to do our part as activists. Some of these tunes, like ‘How Long,’ ‘Train of Misery’ and ‘Anadarko’ speak to those beliefs. And I hope that people enjoy our new work as much as we enjoyed creating it.”
The tenacious spirit that’s embodied in these songs has been a hallmark of Lance Keltner’s music throughout his three-decade musical journey. Growing up as an army brat at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, he began playing guitar at the age of 10. By 12, he was fronting his own band and performing for enthusiastic crowds in his home state. Driven to explore his fascination with the music’s roots, he integrated his love for the blues into his original songwriting. At 19, he settled in Austin, Texas, where he’s become well-established on that city’s fabled music scene.
Throughout much of the 1990s, Keltner balanced his own work with his growing status as in-demand guitarist and musical director, collaborating with such hard-rock artists as Phil Lewis of L.A. Guns and Mike Tramp of White Lion. Meanwhile, Keltner’s own albums—including his self-titled effort on East/West Atlantic Records, and the bracing rock blues set Empty V—and his overseas touring efforts allowed him to expand his international fan base.
2000 proved to be a watershed year for Keltner, with successful performances at several festivals in Europe. His subsequent albums Empty V, Last of the Cowboy Vampires and Lance Keltner further spread his reputation and expanded his fan base. He also embraced a new direction with the one-off supergroup Simranking—also including Bernard Fowler (Rolling Stones), Carmine Rojas (David Bowie) and Tal Bergman (Tower of Power)—which melded Delta Resonator guitar music with World Music rhythms and melodies. In 2010, Lance worked with soul-blues legend Johnny Rawls on his album Ace of Spades, which was named Memphis Blues Album of the Year.
Lance has also played guitar on several national TV advertising campaigns, as well as writing and recording all of the guitar tracks for the Big Buck Hunter video game. He’s also broken new ground in the world of product demos of high-end musical equipment, successfully demonstrating cutting-edge guitar gear on YouTube. Keltner also runs his own guitar amp/effects pedal company Smart Belle, which produces pro level guitar amps and effects pedals that have been used by the likes of Joe Walsh, Tommy Shaw of Styx and Frankie Sullivan of Survivor.
“One thing feeds the other,” he notes. “That’s generally how it works for me. I spent years cultivating a guitar tone that’s my own, and I wanted to share the things I have learned. Smart Belle is an extension of that.
According to Lance, the invaluable experience that he’s gained as a sideman, musical director and entrepreneur has imparted crucial lessons that he’s been able to bring back to his own efforts as a performer and recording artist.
“I was fortunate to learn how to run a show and a band in the most pro way possible,” he explains. “I learned the value of cultivating a look and a sound, and I learned to take a disciplined approach to touring. I also learned that I wanted to be remembered as someone who is approachable, kind and open with fans, promoters and the people that work at the venues. That’s served me really well.”
It’s clear that Lance Keltner is thrilled to once again be doing what he does best: playing guitar, fronting a band and singing songs that come directly from his soul.
“I feel truly blessed to have the opportunity to be playing music again,” he states, “and we can’t wait to get back out there and play these songs for the fans.”