Andre Williams & the Sadies
Considering that he's spent the past 40 years recording everything from bizarro doo-wop and horny R&B to sleazy funk and punked-up blues, it's hardly surprising that Motor City madman Andre Williams decided to make a country album. And it's a great one. Red Dirt, cut earlier this year with his Bloodshot labelmates the Sadies (a fine quasi-country quartet from Toronto) is pretty much what you'd expect from the gravel-voiced, foul-mouthed, sex-crazed writer of libidinous classics such as "Jailbait," "Humpin', Bumpin', and Thumpin'," and "The Stroke." Meaning the covers fall along the lines of the lascivious likes of Lefty Frizzell's "I'm An Old, Old Man (Tryin' to Live While I Can)" and Eddie Arnold's "Easy On the Eyes." Williams's originals are both tormented ("I Can Tell") and twisted ("My Sister Stole My Woman," which you can be sure will not be covered anytime soon by Brooks & Dunn). And with "Hey, Truckers," he's conceived a song that surely has Red "Teddy Bear" Sovine spinning in his grave.
It's a fun, crazed set, with the Sadies' garage-stomp twang as perfectly suited to Williams's lecherous vocals as ex-Gories Mick Collins and Dan Kroha were on this past year's Silky, particularly on the soul-grooving "I Understand (Do You?)." With "She's a Bag of Potato Chips" Williams redeems a particularly irritating piece of talk show vernacular, and he's the only bluesman out there who has likened a woman's, um, charms, to a "Weapon of Mass Destruction."
Red Dirt's greatest moments, though, are also its darkest: "Pardon Me (I've Got Someone to Kill)" and "Psycho." They're both death-laden covers -- the former a chilling Seventies obscurity first recorded by Johnny Paycheck, the latter written by Nashville vet Leon Payne and nailed definitively in 1981 by Elvis Costello. Williams clearly relishes the insanity of both, especially "Pardon Me," in which a pissed-off drunk excuses himself from the bar to go home and kill his philandering missus. On "Psycho" Williams kills babies, girlfriends, and finally his own mother, all the while asking her, "You think I'm psycho, don't you, momma?" The answer is obvious, but Williams drives the point home with a quivering vocal and some sobs and moans that walk the sonic line back and forth between corny and creepy. Of course he walks it masterfully. After all he's been pacing there since the Fifties.
-- John Floyd
Charlie Hunter and Leon Parker
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The typical reaction of someone listening to guitarist Charlie Hunter for the first time is to search through the album notes to see who's playing bass or organ, and then, on not finding either, to blame the omission on a misprint or sloppy packaging. But it's no mistake: Hunter somehow milks all those sounds out of a single custom-made eight-string guitar, without the help of overdubs or other studio tricks. And his gifts are magnified on Duo, a new release that teams him with percussionist Leon Parker, yet at times sounds like the work of four musicians rather than just four hands.
Both Hunter and Parker have done stints as street musicians, so it seems fitting that this project originated not at the desk of a record company executive, but from a chance meeting of the two men on a Brooklyn sidewalk. Although most of the tracks recorded for the project are Hunter originals, the album's two interpretive efforts provide some of its most dramatic moments. With a slow tempo and ghostly vibrato effect, Hunter strips the jazz standard "You Don't Know What Love Is" down to its forlorn, haunting core. He lends a similar yearning melancholy feel to the Beach Boys' "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)," which is supported by Parker's delicate mastery of the drum kit.
Parker's playing on Duo exhibits a more straight-ahead style than his recent solo work, but he's still his usual minimalist self, refraining from pyrotechnic showmanship in favor of dense rhythms and understated cymbal accents. And his drumming here puts more of an emphasis on swing (especially in the up-tempo "Recess" and the Parker-written "Belief") than the explorations of Latin, African, and Asian rhythms that have appeared on his own albums do. The song "Dark Corners" also takes a more traditional tack, but in the process allows Hunter to simultaneously lay down a walking bass line and multiple solos with his eight-string. Along with the funky track "The Spin Seekers" and the Caribbean-hued "Calypso for Grampa," it sounds unmistakably like a full band. Amazing stuff.
-- Chris Duffy