Over the past decade, weathered singer and guitarist Jack Williams has issued a handful of great albums that combine his skilled finger-picking with a musical style that’s equal parts folk storytelling and Tin Pan Alley songcraft, delivered with the impassioned soul of an old blues singer. This one tops them all with a personal examination of his South Carolina heritage, colored by the recent passing of his staunchly southern father.
Fathers figure heavily in several songs, from the fearsome Old Judge Holley in the southern gothic novella “Hushabye” to “Daddy’s Heaven”, a satirical rewrite of the traditional “Bill Grogan’s Goat” that’s dedicated to Williams’ own father. The Biblical patriarch Abraham and his nearly sacrificed son Isaac appear twice, in the jaunty, humorous “Sucker For Love” and the gospel flip side “Unseen Hand”, both referencing the sometimes contradictory nature of old-time religion.
Williams has always managed to infuse his songs with a vivid sense of place, usually the deep south. “High Cotton” offers archetypal southern imagery, reinforced with a traditional follow-up, “Tell Old Bill”, and a snippet of an Uncle Remus story preceding the title song.
As an accompanist to the late Mickey Newbury, Williams spent many hours as a backup player; his picking is front and center on these sparse tracks. Though accents of mandolin, bass, cello, and even tuba are infrequent, Williams has not trouble filling in a rich and varied sound with just his guitar and these stories of faith, family, and the successes and failures of both.
Kevin Oliver / No Depression #60, Nov-Dec 2005
Jack Williams is as good as anybody playing acoustic music today. His new album, “Laughin’ in the Face of the Blues” is stellar. The picking is clean, sharp, and precise, and his warm, gravelly voice wraps around the listener like a friendly blanket in front of a crackling fire on a chilly night. The album is conceptual, although the concept remains kind of a mystery–which is, I think, a good thing, and intentional. Full of surprises, it mixes Biblical passages with quotes from Gershwin and children’s songs, all inside a package of enticing, versatile, and superbly played original music. Definitely a must for the acoustic connosieur.
Across the Prairie
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