May 8th, 2012 | Published in Events
By Pete Roche
Fans of slick blues guitar playing a la Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Bonamassa, and Buddy Guy should check out The Michael Williams Band this Sunday, May 13th, at House of Blues. The Seattle-based quartet will be opening the Mother’s Day show for Jonny Lang—but not before livening up the Fox 8 Morning Show on Friday, May 11th.
Fronted by the fleet-fingered son of Larry “Junior Medlow” Williams (who set the Texas blues circuit afire in the 80s) The Michael Williams Band is still touring behind last year’s acclaimed Fire Red. In addition to Lang, the band has supported such guitar-slinging MVPs like Robert Cray and Eric Johnson—but their rowdy, feel-good shows are often just as memorable as the headliners.
Joining Williams will be keyboardist Ryan Shea Smith, drummer Darin Watkins, and bassist Gerald “Tugboat” Turner II. Each musician is a virtuoso in his own right, demonstrating consummate chops on the MWB debut The King of the Dead. Producer Eddie Kramer (the multi-Grammy winning engineer behind Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin) singled out the band for high praise during sessions for Fire Red, remarking that few—if any—contemporary musicians are doing more to further blues guitar than Williams.
Williams’ latest effort for Remark Music / True Blue Productions kicks off with spirited soul jam “Hey Baby.” Featuring an earnest vocal, irresistibly slinky guitar riff, connect-the-dots bass, and decorative horns, the tune immediately recalls the work of R&B legends like Wilson Pickett and James Brown. Williams’ chicken pickin’ guitar solo also nudges the music into territories frequented by Black Crowes and Gov’t Mule. The wah-wah drenched “No More Suffering” finds Williams shirking the “monkey” of oppression off his shoulders, his twangy guitar leads offsetting a crunchy chorus with multilayered vocals.
Remember the 1970s children’s television show Villa Alegre? No? “Entre Tus Ojos” rides the same salsa-fueled progression, with Williams referencing the Latin rhythms of Carlos Santana and busting out some flamenco chops. An acoustic guitar dances in the left channel while his electric occupies the right, with William’s vocal (in Espanol) and Smith’s piano front-and-center, coasting over Watkins’ snare shuffle and wood block impacts. The refrain is likewise group effort, its dense vocal harmonies evoking a mariachi band. The song—whose English translation amounts to “Between the Eyes”—demonstrates Williams’ readiness to step outside the blues oeuvre and mix things up.
The chunky rhythm guitar of “It’s No Surprise” plants the group back in Bluesville, with Williams’ deft solos conjuring Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chris Duarte, and John Frusciante. The smoldering vocal and boisterous brass coalesces into an over-the-top outro wherein Williams and company work through a series of tension-building key changes before winding down. “Bet Yo’ Mama” is a gritty twelve-bar romp straight out of the ZZ Top songbook that bounces over Watkin’s and Turner’s sturdy rhythm, with Smith’s soulful organ the musical tether that keeps it all grounded.
The slow, sultry “Fire Red” pays tribute to Hendrix with a wah-laden hammer-on, pull-off riff recalling the bayou blues of “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).” Fire Red is, arguably, just the sort of album Jimi might’ve produced today, were the guitar guru still among us, and the title track sizzles with the same acid-washed guitar psychedelics popularized by the Jet City six-stringer so many years ago. “Don’t Put Me Out” shimmies with funky, herky-jerk groove not unlike the clavinet-propelled riff from Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Arriving at the bridge, Williams does the musical equivalent of setting it aflame, his fingers doing a rapid-fire dance across the guitar neck. Swampy roadhouse rocker “If You Let Me” showcases tasty slide guitar over an urgent bass-and-drum stomp.
But Williams has a soft side, too. “Lately” is the native Texan’s “Little Wing,” a plaintive, echoey ballad where the guitar tone is so clean and crisp one can practically hear Williams’ plectrum attacking the strings. “Dead and Gone” is the band’s mortal-minded swansong, a lovely, uplifting hymn charged with church organ and another round of stereo separated acoustic-versus-electric guitar lines.
“Will you remember me?” wonders Williams. “The storm has come and gone…I’m just a page in history.”
It’s a sure bet anyone attending the show Sunday will indeed remember Michael LePaul Williams III.
Be sure to check out MWB on the Fox 8 Morning Show this Friday, May 11th, for a sampling of the group’s barbecue blues. www.fox8.com/category/morning-show
Michael Williams Band, with Jonny Lang, May 13th at House of Blues. General admission $29.50 ($32.00 DOS) or reserved seating $49.50.