Nick Bollinger checks a terse, opinionated set from rock'n'roll original Andre Williams.
If opinions vary as to when and where rock’n’roll’s big bang took place, then the origins of rap are even more contentious. Andre Williams’s career goes back to the early days of rock’n’roll, but he just might have been the original rapper as well. He doesn’t sing so much as vocalise in rhyme: a kind of street-corner oratory that he pioneered in the 50s with hits like ‘The Greasy Chicken’ and ‘Jail Bait’. Groups like The Coasters took the style to more refined levels but Williams always kept it ‘street’, whether he was promoting a new dance step or offering words of sexual caution.
Fast-forward sixty years and Williams is still with us. It’s been a chequered career - a scattering of R&B classics interspersed with long spells of inactivity and, in the last decade or two, rediscovery. The Cramps led the way by covering ‘Jail Bait’ and Williams went on to record with groups like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and The Dirtbombs.
It’s from this school of white R&B that the musicians on his latest record are drawn. Members of The Gories, Outrageous Cherry and the Dirty Three all play, and they default to a sludgy, psychedelic funk.
Williams attempts one or two melodies over the course of the album’s 35 minutes, though even these are usually prefaced by a monologue. Williams freestyles about whatever happens to be on his mind, whether it’s a former lover sent to the electric chair or his current absence from the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.
I Wanna Go Back To Detroit City also offers some commentary on the political fate of his adopted hometown. He calls himself ‘a Democrat with a Republican attitude’. His single ‘Blame It On Obama’ from a couple of years back was a lovely piece of pro-President satire, and with its primitive gospel piano felt almost like something he would have done back in the 50s.
The psych-rock settings of this album, on the other hand, feel more like someone else’s idea of what an Andre Williams record should sound like. Andre himself, though, sounds much the same as ever. Grizzled, grouchy, sometimes hilarious, sometimes scary.
Songs featured: I Wanna Go Back To Detroit City, Times, Mississippi Sue, Hall Of Fame, The Greasy Chicken, Jail Bait.
I Wanna Go Back To Detroit City is available on Bloodshot Records.