by Ian Mann
April 07, 2010
A bluesy, folky, rootsy mix topped off by Williams' easy going but authoritative vocals.
Brooks Williams is a folk/blues singer, songwriter and guitarist originally from Statesboro, Georgia.
Williams made his name after moving to Boston, Mass. and also spent time in Texas before adopting what he describes as a “transatlantic lifestyle”. Williams now divides his time between Boston,Mass. and Cambridge, England with Dallas, Dublin and Istanbul also on his regular itinerary. “Baby O!” is his seventeenth album and was recorded in England with the help of a British band comprising of Jethro Tull bassist David Goodier, fellow guitarist PJ Wright (Little Johnny England, Fairport Convention) plus Keith Warmington on harmonica and Helen Watson on backing vocals.
The material consists of seven Williams originals plus a selection of interesting outside material from the genres of blues, folk and jazz. With no drums the emphasis is very much on the sound of the various guitars deployed by Williams and Wright. There are acoustic and electric slide guitars, pedal steel from Wright plus the wonderful sounds of vintage dobros and resonator guitars. It all adds up to a bluesy, folky, rootsy mix topped off by Williams’ easy going but authoritative vocals.
The album opens with a Williams original, the story song Frank Delandry. It tells the tale of a disappeared, presumably murdered, New Orleans guitarist. As far as I can ascertain Delandry is a fictional creation but Williams’ song sums up the humid, claustrophobic atmosphere of the Crescent City to perfection. Taut, pressure point guitar drives the song with slide providing embellishment and adding an authentically bluesy atmosphere. It’s a great start and probably the best original song on the album. It’s certainly a track that seems to have found it’s way on to a lot of radio play lists.
Williams and his colleagues produce an affectionate and effective reading of Son House’s “Grinnin’ In Your Face”, a blues anthem for the outsider in all of us. Warmington’s harmonica growls bluesily, Goodier’s bass rumbles resonantly and Watson provides a little sweetness to balance the bitterness of the lyrics. Williams meanwhile gives an assured and confident vocal performance.
“Walk You Off My Mind” is a convincing original in the blues tradition powered by Williams’ guitar and stomp box with only Warmington’s swampy blues harp for company. It’s stark and simple but hugely enjoyable and effective.
“All Been Said” is the next of a clutch of love songs. Quieter and closer to folk and country than what has gone before this features Williams voice at it’s most conversational and there’s some fine guitar picking too.
“Last Chance Love” ventures even further into country territory with the keening sound of Wright’s pedal steel guitar. I can’t pretend that I like this side of Williams’ work. I much prefer him with his blues hat on. Sadly the title track is not much of an improvement, a throwaway ditty about the loneliness of the long distance musician separated from his “Baby O” back home.
More to my tastes is an instrumental version of “Amazing Grace” played by Williams in bottleneck style on resonator guitar. Never has a hymn sounded so low down and dirty. Wonderful.
Equally as fine is his version of Mississippi John Hurt’s classic “Louis Collins” (or “Angels Laid Him Away” as I prefer to think of it), simply a great song and one of my favourites.
“Moon On Down” is Williams’ own blues stomp, a good natured paean to a loving woman with the arrangement enhanced by Warmington’s bluesy harp and Watson’s vocal harmonies. The following “Devil’s Punchbowl” is a brief but haunting instrumental, a duet between Williams on picked acoustic and Wright on ghostly pedal steel.
Mel London’s “Sugar Sweet” is a slide driven piece of fluff that demonstrates the links between the blues and early rock ‘n’ roll.
To close Williams nods in the direction of jazz with a moving folk blues interpretation of Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster’s “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)”. Williams’ relaxed delivery brings out the real sadness of the lyrics- behind the jocular title the song is a real tear jerker and Williams invests it with real emotion.
“Baby O” is a pretty decent offering from Williams and one that should enhance his steadily growing reputation. He’s a highly skilled guitarist and a capable singer with a relaxed but subtly powerful delivery. He’s a musician who seems thoroughly at home across the full range of American folk musics (I include blues, folk, country and jazz here) and this album is a good showcase of his capabilities. For me it starts strongly, flags a little in the middle but ends with a flourish.
From the recorded evidence I’d also surmise that he’s an assured and charismatic live performer, either solo or fronting a band. Interested readers will have the chance to put this hypothesis to the test as Williams is about to embark on a UK tour in support of the album beginning April 16th 2010. Full details of the itinerary can be found at http://www.brookswilliams.comblog comments powered by Disqus