American import Brooks Williams comes to Kings Heath next month. Martin Longley caught him up in York.
The Black Swan
December 8th, 2016
Brooks Williams is a bluesman, yet not a bluesman. During a two-part set, this American songster interprets several hardcore numbers from the repertoire, but he also inhabits the generally rootsy terrain, tasting country, folk and Cajun, as well as contributing a significant amount of original compositions.
His methods are broad, but always deeply skilled. Williams has been living in England for some years, but originally hails from Statesboro in Georgia, which he describes as being somewhat less cool than Savannah, a quainter, more historic and musically rich city.
Opening with Memphis Slim’s Mother Earth, Williams immediately displays his skills on a wooden-bodied resonator guitar, before switching to a straight acoustic for Blind Willie McTell’s Statesboro Blues, just to prove that his home town isn’t entirely bereft of significance.
The Williams bottleneck attack is hard, coaxing out the natural rattle of his strings, in a briskly strutting version with a pickin’ solo. He also rolls out deep basslines, simultaneously addressing the lower regions of toasted warmth, as well as the knifing trills. Williams lets the high notes float, then flicks in filigreed twists, these guitar acrobatics an extension of his vocal mobility and grace, slipped in between each easily-delivered line.
Already an impressive guitar merchant, Williams then reveals his three-stringed cigar-box axe, which is certainly no impediment to his virtuosity. Sittin’ On Top Of The World follows, and then his own Nine Days Wonder, also on the cigartar. He finishes the first set with a suitably rockin’ My Turn Now, his own song, inspired by the Isle Of Man’s famed TT motorbike race.
The three-stringer stays for Darkness, a raspy blues stalker (“darkness is the horse I ride”), vocals and strings united symbiotically, with low-strung bendings and serrated strums. As the second set progresses, Williams becomes increasingly burrowed inside the dark core of the blues, delivering Bessie Smith’s Back Water Blues, as New Orleans vibrates in flooding sympathy with Old York’s recent river-rising: “It thunders and lightnins, and then the wind begins to blow”.
Williams slows and savours these lines, concluding with a double encore of the traditional Hesitation Blues and his own song, about the complete lack of furniture in the house of a guy called Bob…
Williams plays at the Kitchen Garden Café on 12th February.