The Michael Williams Band
True Blue Productions
Producer: Eddie Kramer
Blues has pretty much run its course and become the stuff of cartoony 50 something white males with soul patches, bowling shirts, and fedoras. It’s morphed from being a purely African American art form full of intensely personal artistic expressions, to modern day minstrelsy and bad black people impersonations. All those great album titles by Albert King, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King have lost their original audience. The residue of this once great music can be found at open mic nights, or watered down to fit on a Sons of Anarchy soundtrack.
And then there’s Michael Williams. He comes from Texas, plays gritty guitar, sings like a chain smoker, and belts the kind of blues that would make his late father, blues singer Larry “Junior Medlow” Williams proud. His second album is called Fire Red and it’s saturated with the kind of burning gut level stuff that has been missing from blues music for a long time.
From the straight up Hendrixy/Voodoo inspired stomp of the title track to the ridiculously thick wah/slide guitar of “Bet Yo’ Mama,” Williams brings a raw authenticity to his music. Not to be put in a bag, the album is diverse in its ability to display the many facets of the blues using William’s voice as a linchpin to hold it all together. The funky R&B of “No More Suffering” with its bluesy Proctavia licks and country-blues extrapolations, gives way to the Latin influenced “Entre Tus Ojos.”
“It’s No Surprise” is a straight-ahead Texas shuffle that swings hard and shows off what this band could do in a blues club. Williams took guitar lessons from Chris Duarte when he was a teenager and this track demonstrates that he was a very good student. He categorizes his playing style somewhere between SRV and post Hendrix, a touch of Chet Atkins, and life’s trials and tribulations. You can hear this in his playing sans the super obvious clichés. Sitting a Strat flat on his lap and using a Bic lighter for slide is also part of his musical arsenal. On “If You Let Me” he gets really down home doubling his vocal lines with terrific slide work.
He’s found the middle ground between communicating on his instrument with authority, passion, and virtuosity, without sounding like a guitar clinic. Legendary producer Eddie Kramer produced this record and as you would expect, the production is warm, energetic, and very live sounding. You can hear the band playing together in a room with only a few overdubs. Williams played guitar and sang at the same time on these tracks.
Fire Red is a refreshing record. Michael Williams’ rough voiced emotional singing is the big draw here but his guitar playing is stellar as well. The band is funky, solid, and knows how to swing. If you think blues is all bowling shirts and soul patches, Fire Red will change your mind.