Mr. Rhythm is back once again with another new set of tunes, as he closes in on six decades (!) in the music business. As has been the case more often than not during in the past couple decades, Williams and company have come up with yet another sort of musical frame for his spoken-sung tales from the streets. The man himself is quoted in the press materials for Hoods and Shades as calling it "the Andre Williams folk album," which is a description with some merit.
Here's some quick backstory for those unfamiliar with the legend of Andre Williams: He began recording in the mid-1950s for the Fortune label in Detroit, nearly immediately displaying the on/over-the-edge sensibility that has been his hallmark ever since on singles such as "Jail Bait" and "The Greasy Chicken." In the '60s and early '70s, he worked on songwriting and production at one time or another for about every Midwest R&B label you can think of -- if it's got a groove and a sly sense of humor, check the label copy for his name. Williams also continued releasing sporadic singles of his own as well, most notably for Chess/Checker toward the end of the '60s. His story is hazier through the later '70s and '80s; Williams was homeless on the streets of Chicago before being rediscovered and recording again in the '90s.
Since then, he's recorded more prolifically under his own name than back in the '50s and '60s; highlights include Silky, a polarizing, noisy, sleazy release that must be heard to be believed; the country/R&B hybrid Red Dirt, recorded with The Sadies; a return to '50s-ish sounds on Bait and Switch; and the good old rockin' R&B of Can You Deal With It? His last album, 2010's That's All I Need, downshifted into a mellower groove and a more serious, reflective tone. The album's best song is the heartfelt "Amends," a straight-up acoustic track -- a path not often taken on records under his own name during Williams' career.
Much of the crew who worked on Need are back for Hoods and Shades, and this time around have laid down an acoustic bed for the whole album. As one may expect from that description, this isn't a party record. However, that approach is occasionally augmented by the quietly fuzzed-out soloing of wah-wah master Dennis Coffey and Outrageous Cherry's Matthew Smith, so it's not exactly a "folk" album in the way most listeners would definite that genre, either. As always, it's entertaining to hear Williams adapt to yet another cross-pollination of musical styles. It's worth pointing out that Coffey was involved in another sort-of-folk album that's gone on to become an outsider touchstone: Cold Fact by Rodriguez.
Other heavy hitters participating include songwriter/producer Don Was and Detroit wunderkind Jim Diamond on bass, Dirty Three drummer Jim White, and Dave Shettler of SSM and The Sights on Moog. As on Need, they all do a good job of setting up a groove and letting Andre do his thing. Williams' tale spinning is in top form on the title track and "A Good Day to Feel Bad," both lamenting the street lifestyle. Essentially completely a spoken word piece is "Swamp Dogg's Hot Spot," which I'm guessing is about the 20th century's other great soul music iconoclast; the pair crossed paths in the past on Andre's little-heard 1990 return to recording, Directly from the Streets.
Madison fans can catch some tales in person this Thursday, March 22, as Andre Williams will bring along Chicago rockers The Goldstars for show at the High Noon Saloon, starting at 8 p.m. I'd bet there'll be some rockin' R&B too. And keep your eyes on the record store racks -- The Sadies just announced they have a record coming out with Andre in May. (Bloodshot Records, 2012; includes digital download code)