If you’re one of the lucky ones to have seen Brooks Williams playing live, you’ll have come away feeling good, with a huge smile on your face. He’s a jaw-droppingly good guitar player, a wonderful and versatile singer, a great song-writer with a ready wit, and he knows his roots and blues music history inside-out. In short, if you don’t know Brooks Williams, you’ve sold yourself short – start delving into his excellent back catalogue of 28 albums and for sure, get yourself a copy of his latest release, Lucky Star.
Lucky Star gives us twelve tracks and two additional bonus songs which feature Brooks along with blues maestro Hans Theessink. These two are reprises of solo versions of the songs from earlier in the album and are the icing on the cake of what is a terrific album of bluesy Americana. Williams’ version of Tommy Dorsey’s Rock Me does full justice to the song that Sister Rosetta Tharpe made her own, rocking along with Theessink’s mandolin and William’s resonator. Gambling Man, a Williams original, sounds like an old blues song you’re sure you know, with a distinctive Mississippi John Hurt feel. The combination of Williams’ tenor voice and Theessink’s gravelly bass works tremendously well.
Of the twelve songs on the album, eight are Brooks Williams’ originals, showcasing his top-notch song writing skills. Williams’ original songs are typically sophisticated musically, and yet sound immediately familiar – a sign of a skilled songwriter.
Bright Side of the Blues kicks the album off, with the sort of feel-good factor you expect from a Brooks Williams’ set, and sets the tone for the rest of the album – upbeat and positive (did I catch a nod here to a famous Van Morrison song?). That said, Williams can tap into the spirit of the blues when he wants to. In Here Comes the Blues, he reminds us that “The world’s gone mad, it’s come unglued…Here comes the blues;” while in No Easy Way Back he bemoans a change of fortunes for the worse – “Down, down, no easy way back.”
No Easy Way Back is one of the stand-out songs of the album, with some cool backing vocals (and hand clapping!) from Rab Noakes. It’s a nice, laid-back slice of Americana which gives Williams the opportunity to add a little rasp to his vocals. And talking of Americana, you’ve really got to have a train song, haven’t you? Jump that Train does the job nicely, pulsing us inexorably down the track, fuelled by a tight rhythm section and Brooks’s resonator guitar.
Aside from Rock Me, there’s an intriguing choice of covers. We get “Godfather of Americana” Walter Hyatt’s Going to New Orleans; Henry Creamer’s 1920s song After You’ve Gone, Williams here channelling Bessie Smith’s 1928 version, and Chris Kenner’s 1961 R&B hit Something You Got, which was famously covered by the Moody Blues, and B B King and Koko Taylor. For sure, go check out the B B King version. But Williams’ versions more than do these vintage numbers justice, keeping their classic form intact but putting his own inimitable stamp on them.
This is a very fine set of songs, which feature Williams’ groove-laced guitar playing, whether on acoustic or resonator, and his expressive, soulful singing. It’s an artist at the top of his game and an album you really want to hear.
Check out our interview with Brooks Williams and Hans Theessink here.