Monday, May 28, 2012


Andre Williams' bio, on the surface, reads like one of those guys getting inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame:  Top 10 R'n'B hits in the 50's, producer and/or songwriter for legendary 60's and 70's hit makers such as Stevie Wonder, Parliament, Edwin Starr, and Ike and Tina Turner.  Years of obscurity follow, and then a 90's comeback that continues to this day.  But his music was mostly too nasty or explicit for wide consumption, and his tale was much darker than almost everyone else.

Booze and drugs took their toll, and Williams wound up begging, in poverty.  Even his comeback years saw him mired in trouble and addiction, and when these sessions were begun in 2006, Williams was fresh out of jail, and still messed up on rum.  But it also marked the end of his drinking, and since then, he's been sober, although no less spirited.

Those who have discovered him worship Williams for his true-to-life lyrics and ability to give a real picture of life in the U.S., if you're African-American and poor.  Or, they just like the fact he's a dirty, funky old guy, who's forgotten more about R'n'B than most will ever know.  I get the feeling The Sadies fall into both camps.  Longtime admirers and occasional collaborators, the band took the plunge and went in the studio those fateful few days with Williams in 2006, and the results have finally appeared.

While Williams still performs and records his greasy R'n'B, which earned him the nicknames Mr. Rhythm and The Black Godfather, and has added near-punk elements to his work at times, with The Sadies, it's a different kettle of fish.  With their classic mix of surf, twang, rockabilly and Byrds, aided by guests from The Mekons, Jon Spencer and such, the music is more guitar-oriented than funky.  Williams is served up as a grizzled story-teller, telling it like it is, more rapping than singing.  Except rappers brag.  Williams ain't bragging, and neither are the characters in the songs, although it's tough to know where his life ends and some others begins.  Nothing's pretty in these tales, whether its the rummie who talks about killing a store clerk to get money to bail his friend out of jail, or the calling-out of the entire state of Mississippi, and the city of Joliet, as being places no-one would want to go if they aren't white.

At the same time, Williams injects humour into several songs, through his delivery at times, and good old irony.  After spending much of the song America saying how bad it is, he admits, "it's better than being in Africa".  And in One-Eyed Jack ("a bad mothersucker"), we get a new anti-hero, Shaft meets Mack The Knife.

There's a hypnotic quality to the album, no doubt helped out by the stellar backing of The Sadies and pals.  But it's also the fascinating vocal style of Williams, and the mild shock of the reality check in his words.  Quite powerful, actually.

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