You have to admire anyone brave enough to stand (or sit) in front of an audience armed only with an instrument, a voice, and talent. There’s nothing to hide behind, no way to take the spotlight off of you and put it on the band for 12 bars. There are no pyrotechnics, no special effects, no overdubs, nothing but you and the audience.
Frightening for some, exhilarating for others.
California-born but living in Canada Tim Williams, the 2014 IBC winner in the solo-duo category obviously feels that for him, it’s the latter. He’s just released his first solo album, SO LOW, on Lowden Proud Records and for those of us who love the true old school feel of just a man and his guitar singing the blues (as well as some ragtime, and even some early country) this is a great album to add to your collection.
Williams has recorded ten songs on the album and has written four which fit seamlessly alongside numbers written by the likes of Mose Allison, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Boy Fuller, and Johnny Cash. That’s not too shabby of company to keep.
Williams does everything on the album; he plays, he sings, he taps out the rhythm with his wingtips, and even produces it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he catered the recording session and made the coffee as well, but you have to admire an artist who has a vision and he’s doing everything he can to translate the sound as he hears it for his audience.
The Mose Allison song If You Live kicks off the CD with a nice guitar lead and vocals with a clear intensity that announces we are listening to an unusual album. It’s got an intimacy that often is lost behind over amplified leads and screaming vocals. If you really want someone’s attention, start out low as that forces your audience to come to you.
The first Williams original, More Peppers In Your Chili, may have started out because Williams has a ton of spices in his home, but the lyrics take it into a different double entendre laden area. It’s quirky and humorous and a ton of fun.
My Big Money is one of Big Bill Broonzy’s classic. The title refers to a bonus that was promised to African-American soldiers in World War I that was quickly denied. The government even won a lawsuit against it (what a surprise) and this is Broonzy’s take on the situation. Williams sings it like it was his own story.
The next Williams penned number, Anywhere c/o The Blues, tells the story of his obsession with the blues. His lyrics are strong and the rhythm pulls you deeply into the song. It’s a strong song and one that many of us have lived.
The Blind Boy Fuller tune, Pistol Snapper receives a bit of an update with Williams’ approach. That’s part of the story of the blues (or most music for that matter) as one artist builds on another and creates a new approach to a song. Williams’ guitar work is very good and once again you get the feeling that the song is part of his DNA.
Next up is the longest song (at 4:05) on the album, The Witching Hour. This is a quiet song with some haunting musical turns. This is an old Tampa Red number which allows Williams to feature a little slide work.
Next up is an old song that I was not familiar with, The Grizzly Bear, about a dance craze in the ‘20’s where people imitated the actions of a grizzly bear. It probably looked fairly ridiculous, but the song is fun, and quick paced. I liked this one a lot. But I won’t dance The Grizzly Bear anytime soon.
Johnny Cash’s Big River is a powerful song and Williams shows how closely country and the blues are related. Usually anytime you hear a Cash song, it’s hard not to hear it sung in his distinctive voice, but here Williams does his best to leave his own imprint on the number. But you can still feel the pain.
Next up is another original, Midnight After Midnight, which has a slow-downed country blues feel and makes for a great follow up to Big River. This is the story of anyone who has ever worried about a lover and feared the worst was about to happen. His voice again reflects deep pain and the song just pulls you in.
Williams ends the album with another original song, Lightnin’, which is an homage to the great Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins, one of the great influences on Williams. It’s a great story song that paints a picture of the life Hopkins led while playing his music. We can only hope that others will be inspired by this approach and work on keeping the solo blues alive as well.
There is an unmistakable strength in Williams’ quiet. His phrasing is fresh and there is no separation between guitar and voice, no additional instruments to cut into his performance. After all, sometimes enhancements get in the way of the beauty of the song. Williams is an extraordinary talent.
You can find out more about Williams at http://www.cayusemusic.com/ and once you’ve discovered this talented musician, you’ll be sure to want to hear more of his work and catch him live any chance you get.
(The photo of Williams is from his web site. If you are the copyright holder and want it removed, we can do that, but we'll put up another one that is really bad in its place.)