Andre Williams – Life
Time was when late-career blues albums were safe, cosy affairs. Albums such as Willie Dixon’s Hidden Charms, or John Lee Hooker’s The Healer and Mr. Lucky were a chance to buddy up for some safe jams with a few old pals. Thankfully that all changed with the pairing up of RL Burnside and Jon Spencer in the mid ’90s, when it became clear that blues works best when it’s gritty, fired up, and at times unsatisfied. As Andre Williams states the beginning of his new album Life, you “can’t be happy on every fucking thing”.
Williams’ story is an interesting one, his career dating back to the 1950s. As well as his own string of solo and band releases, he’s the writer of ‘Shake A Tail Feather’, best known to UK audiences as Ray Charles show-stealing moment in the Blues Brothers film. A version of said song appears on this new album. He was also manager/roadie to Edwin Starr in the 1960s. His addictions to drink and drugs have at times seen him homeless but he’s somehow always seemed able to come up with the goods musically. He also wrote songs for Parliament and Funkadelic in the 1970s. It’s this pairing that’s particularly pertinent on listening to Life, it’s ten tracks decidedly more funk than blues-punk. As such it echoes the early Dr. John albums, the funky, pentatonic riffings of Norman Whitfield era Temptations, and even Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud album.
Life was recorded in Williams’ teenage home town of Detroit with producer Matthew Smith and a hired band of fine and funky players. The album has a broader musical scope than soulful funk though with doo-wop and reggae stylings, on ‘It’s Only You That I Love’ and ‘Money Ain’t Got No Loyalty’ respectively. There’s also room for some timely comic reflections on the politicians’ lot with ‘Blame It On Obama’ . While Williams’ voice at times shows the limits expected for a man of his age (he’ll be 76 this November), the album is very much a success and proof that there’s a still a lot of life left in him yet.