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.
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Father John Misty plays Toronto on May 14 and Montreal on May 15.
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