Andre Williams: Two inspired new collaborations

June 14, 2012

Andre Williams

Sporting a velvet lavender suit, an attitude bad enough to redefine that term and a hustler’s life story that Elmore Leonard couldn’t invent, Chicago-born R&B legend Andre Williams has been enjoying a long-overdue career renaissance in certain corners of the raw ’n’ rootsy rock underground in recent years—one that isn’t necessarily glamorous or lucrative enough to make up for decades spent in underappreciated servitude to labels such as Fortune, Motown and Chess, but which at age 75 at least garners a lot more love than he ever got when he was strung out on drugs and living homeless in the Loop.

Alternately hailed as “the father of rap” and the all-time master of “sleaze rock,” Chicago’s Bloodshot Records deserves much of the credit for introducing Williams to a new generation of fans, with a relationship that started in 1999 and which paired him at various points with the Sadies, the New Orleans Hellhounds and members of the Dirtbombs, among others. Now, the allegedly clean, sober and newly Jewish singer and songwriter is back with two more inspired collaborations: Night and Day, another pairing with the Sadies on Yep Roc, and Nightclub, a short but sweet EP with Chicago’s Goldstars on the local Pravda label.

In keeping with their earlier joint, Red Dirt (1999), Canada’s Sadies bring a country lilt to much of Night and Day, including the surprisingly lovely “My Desire,” which finds the croaky veteran dueting with a brilliant choice for a guest vocalist, the heavenly Sally Timms. Yet while completing sessions that began in Detroit in 2008, Williams and the younger musicians also brought a very timely and relevant anger and savage sarcasm regarding the state of affairs between the races and classes in these United States to songs such as “America (You Say a Change is Gonna Come)” (Living in America ain’t no fun/Better have some money or you’ll be on the run/It’s a goddamn shame/Without cash you’re trash… [But] it’s better than living in Africa”), “Mississippi & Joliet” (two places the singer advises us to avoid at all costs) and the furious “Bored” (“The worst thing in the world/Is a black man being bored/And broke/That’s a dangerous thing”). Then, too, there’s plenty of not necessarily exaggerated self-deprecation (“I like my rum/’Cause I got no teeth/I let it flow over my gums”) and a lot of hard-learned commentary about how much jail sucks. And, really, who can disagree with any of that?

As befits the title and the Goldstars’ garage-rock aesthetic, Nightclub is more of a party disc for a go-go club circa 1966. The double-entendre title track rides a sexy, slinky groove, “Hot Coffee” is a frug-worthy homage to exactly that (and we ain’t talking Starbucks) and the equally groovy “Hard Way” is to Williams what “My Way” was to Frank Sinatra: the song that sums it all up. “I know I got a bad reputation/Always doing things my way,” he sings. “You’re gonna have to deal with me baby/Even though it’s the hard way.”

Honest, Andre: It’s not that hard. In fact, on both of these releases, it’s a gas.

Andre Williams & the Sadies, Night and Day (Yep Roc)

Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.

Andre Williams and the Goldstars, Nightclub (Pravda)

Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.