Night & Day Andre Williams & the Sadies (Yep Roc/Outside)
“I know I’m a rummy, but I ain’t no dummy.” Uh-huh, amen. Andre Williams has a way with rhymes. Dude’s a right Don King, or something out of a Steve Miller song: A smoker, a joker, a midnight toker who really does love your peaches and who will absolutely shake your tree. Yeah, it’s like that.
Williams, a pimpy 70-year-old Detroit hustler who was audacious back in 1957 with his saucy Jail Bait hit single, is alive (if sometimes unwell) with Toronto’s Sadies, his sidemen/collaborators and sawed-off-shotgun holders. They combine for oily punk blues, hellacious garage rock and countrified R&B – something for everybody and those in cellblock C.
Just listen to Your Old Lady – a funky thing of go-go cosmic twang and jangly giddy-up. In it, Williams is portrayed as a noble fellow who looked after a friend’s woman while that friend was in jail. Williams expects gratitude for his gracious caretaking – “I gave you a break, sucker”– but is afforded none.
There’s a story to the album’s title. Half of it was recorded in 2008, when Williams was boozed up and embroiled in court proceedings.
More recently, the psychedelic cowboys of the Sadies reunited with Williams (who released Hoods and Shades on Bloodshot Records earlier this year) at the analogue-equipped Key Club recording studio, on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan. At this point, our man was in sharper, and sober, form – “agile, mobile and hostile,” to borrow the title of a 2007 documentary on Williams. The transformation of the talk-singing soul man was radical, like night and day.
And so, on the laconic smokestack-lightning blues of Mississippi & Joliet, we assume Williams is rum-buzzed. He’s in full harangue, earning enemies at the Mississippi board of tourism with his slurry advisement to stay clear of that state (or any place like it) because of racial bigotry. (“Racial bigotry” is not how Williams puts it; his choice of words is more, shall we say, earthy.)
The album’s first seven tracks are rough, tumble and often short, with Jon Spencer conducting the blurry “before” sessions. One imagines the blue-eyed Spencer, an outsized gutter-soul character himself, looking on in envy as the real deal spells it out scattershot on the muscular, fuzzed-out sleaze of Bored. Williams here is brilliantly woolly – warning America to worry about undistracted blacks at one point. Elsewhere he states that “I don’t do drugs any more, but I will.” That honest declaration is probably the best that a parole officer could hope for, all things considered.
The “after” cuts of the album’s second half are firmer and more focused. Fiddles happen. One-Eyed Jack chugs greasily. That’s My Desire is a duet for the slow-dance set at the Shady Grove Retirement Village. And for Me & My Dog, Williams checks into the blues-strut suite at the Doors’ Morrison Hotel, where pooches are allowed.
The turnabout track is the seventh, I Thank God – a waltzing sermon at dusk. “You better get money, if you’re going to do something funny, cuz you got to have somethin’ to get outta jail.” And then the voice of experience asks us if we understand. I think I do. There are no guarantees, with Williams or anything else. Best prepare for the extremes.
OTHER NEW RELEASES
Strange Clouds B.o.B. (Atlantic) 3 stars
How did identity crisis become the defining characteristic of contemporary rappers? First, Bobby Ray Simmons presents himself as both a traditional MC named B.o.B. and a genre-jumping pop artist, Bobby Ray (hence the title of his chart-topping debut, B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray). His second album finds him questioning the reality of both assumed identities. It can get a bit meta: On Both of Us, he questions pop success while deploying Taylor Swift on the chorus. And when he ushers in Nicki Minaj for the F-bomb-laced Out of My Mind, it’s hard to tell if he’s crazy smart or just crazy. But the pop moments remain intoxicating, particularly the fizzy, addictive Chandelier. J.D. Considine
Fear Fun Father John Misty (Sub Pop) 3 stars
Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman used to drum for Fleet Foxes, but it’s safe to say he marches to his own beat. The record is an amusing stash of atypical wit, Laurel Canyon rollick and stuff more folky-choral and shimmering. O I Long to Feel Your Arms Around Me is brief, ghostly and beautiful, with a Hammond organ put to swell use. His tenor voice is tremulous; he’s a California dark dreamer. Now I’m Learning to Love the War considers the harmful ecology of making records. This is a groovier Loudon Wainwright III, with the soul of Gram Parsons in his knapsack. This is nothing to fear. Brad Wheeler
Father John Misty plays Toronto on May 14 and Montreal on May 15.
Harmonia mundi Franz Schubert: Schwanengesang and Sonata for Piano in B flat major, D. 960 Matthias Goerne, baritone; Christoph Eschenbach, piano 3 stars
Baritone Matthias Goerne continues his survey of Schubert lieder here, the sixth of a projected 11 volumes, and the second with pianist Christoph Eschenbach. Schwanengesang may not be a true song cycle, but Goerne gives it a powerful emotional trajectory, beginning with a hazy Liebesbotschaft and growing ever more focused, reaching a peak in a harrowing interpretation of Der Doppelganger whose unspent angst spills over into the final song. Goerne doesn’t etch out a text like many lieder singers, although we do not lack detail in individual words. But so beautiful is his sound – dark, voluptuous and liquid in all registers and at any volume – that one might easily miss the intelligence of his singing. Eschenbach is not his equal: His accompaniments are workaday, his performance of Schubert’s final piano sonata flaccid and sentimental. Elissa Poole
Bloom Beach House (Sub Pop) 3 stars
Music-snob litmus test: If Beach House licensed its entire fourth album to advertisers, would it bother you? Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally haven’t announced any plans to cash in spectacularly the way Moby did with Go, but they certainly could – Bloom is replete with pleasant and fleetingly melancholy tunes that would be a music supervisor’s wet dream. Legrand’s voice is imbued with an almost spiritual heaviness, resting on reverb-drenched melodic synth and guitar patterns that feel comparatively weightless and ephemeral. Memorable lyrics surface above the musical haze from time to time, as on Lazuli when Legrand intones, “Like no other, you could be replaced,” but the words are hardly the point. Bloom is as lush as a movie soundtrack by Vangelis or Tangerine Dream, a smooth surface onto which you can project anything you want. Dave Morris