Thanks to the fact that I'm an acquaintance of Jack Williams, and that he's so accommodating and informative, I have the luxury of being able to get direct input when writing about him. In this review, I'll indicate Williams' words as italicized quotations.
Walkin' Dreams is one of two simultaneously released CDs. The other, Live & In Good Company, is reviewed separately. Walkin' Dreams is a "studio" album, which - in Jack's case - typically means "recorded live in the studio, with all musicians playing together, and with minimal overdubs (usually none) or re-takes."
Most Jack Williams songs are about people he's known, or has come to know through reading about them. Whether they are about men or women, most of them are nothing less than love songs. Despite the bitter comments of John Lennon, most "love songs" aren't "silly", and certainly not the ones written by Williams. Do we really prefer the alternative, songs written from a perspective of hatred? The closest Williams seems to come to that is Mr. Cherry, and I suspect even that is less hatred than disgust and disdain - maybe even some degree of pity - for someone filled with such hatred of his own.
The album opens with A Natural Man, a song for Josh White "written in memory of one of my musical heroes (not to be confused with Josh White, Jr. who is alive and well and touring regularly)." Shoeboy's Son (The Ballad of George McJunkin) is about a freed slave who educated himself in book learning, as well as many skills that would serve him well throughout his life. The length and detail to which Williams went in writing about the background of this song (including the effort to which he went to find McJunkin's grave) made it clear to me that the story of Mr. McJunkin moved him immensely, and this song is a fitting and wonderful tribute.
Thirsty Town, which Jack described as "a fanciful portrait of swampland people and places in the recently drought-ridden Southern U.S." immediately brought to mind an excellent recent CD from John Davis named Dreams Of The Lost Tribe. Thirsty Town would fit right in amidst Davis' songs about the south Georgia and Louisiana swamps, and some of the characters that inhabit them. In a somewhat similar vein, Big Muddy follows. From Williams: "Begun as lines in a journal, then continued as a poem, the lyrics eventually became a song in which a hidden story was discovered. Driving down the Mississippi River on the Louisiana side during cotton-harvest, I was reminded of the labor, the poverty, the class-arrogance, the oppression, and the desolation to be encountered there on the flood plain and delta - even in 21st-century America."
In The Texas Sky (A song for Al Grierson) and Will Able's Grave are a couple of more paeans to beloved friends, written with such skill that the listener comes to know them, too, within the few minutes of the songs.
And then there's the aforementioned Mr. Cherry, which uses a seemingly incongruous upbeat melody to counterbalance its' scathing indictment of the white supremacists'1963 bombing of a Birmingham, AL church, in which four black children were killed.
Me & My Automobile is a fun song, written by a guy who puts hundreds of thousands of miles on his van in the pursuit of playing his songs to his adoring and appreciative fans, and about which Williams wrote "Not a great song but - who cares? - we were having a great time!" Micky's Song, written for his cat - not his dear, departed friend Mickey Newbury - is another fun song, but still one born from love. And Jack knows Micky loves him, too - even if, like most cats, he doesn't always show it in the way you might want.
When I first heard En La Noche performed live (solo) many months ago, I loved it. With the additional accompaniment on the recorded version, my opinion remains the same. Another loving tribute, this time to the people of the border village across the Rio Grande who, despite their living conditions, seem to live a life of happiness and dignity.
About the song Walkin' Dream, Williams wrote: "I was thinking of the fact that I'm enjoying getting older, and enjoying being able to better understand why things happen - bad things, especially - and how we persevere, learn and grow (or don't) from the experiences. I'm walkin' through it all, taking note of it all, and hoping to do better in this world because of it."
The album concludes with Fly Away Home, about which Jack said "More musings about memories of growing up in the Deep South."
My final comments: as usual with Jack Williams, the songs contain great melodies, and are performed with the utmost in instrumental ability and taste. Williams is an excellent guitarist, technically creative and brilliant, without ever resorting to the bombast that is often found in many others with the reputation of "great guitarist." Accompaniment is, as always, generally sparse. Lyrically, no one is better than Williams, whose style suits my preference of "If you've got something to say, say it - and do so in words that don't require interpretation by Freud or Fellini." There's certainly no absence of imagery, but it's from the school of Realism rather than Impressionism.
It interests and impresses me that many of Williams' subjects are "people of color", both personal friends and others found in books and magazine articles. Jack grew up in the deep South, in a time of segregation, but seems to be as colorblind as if he was actually unsighted. His songs consistently reveal him as a man who cares about, and respects, all people. I have no doubt that I'd love his music even if I knew nothing else about him than what the recordings reveal; however, having read numerous posts that he's made to his internet discussion group, and having had a fair amount of personal contact and communication with him, my appreciation and admiration extends far beyond his music.
As fine a songwriter, musician, and singer as he is - and, in my opinion, there are none better - he seems to be an even better human being. Fortunately for those who don't have the luxury of personal contact with him, that comes through in his music, resulting in yet another excellent album from Jack Williams.
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