Well, this one will surely sound fine blaring from a car stereo, the windows rolled down, on a hot summer day during these next several months. On Detroit and Chicago musical legend Andre Williams' second album for major indie Bloodshot, producer-guitarist Matthew Smith uses much the same formula — as well as some of the same all-Detroit musical lineup — he used for Nathaniel Mayer's final two albums. But with all due respect to the late, great Mr. Mayer, whose best recordings were surely made during his classic Fortune Records era, the method works much better here because the material is superior and Williams sounds better (and closer to the way he did on his early "hits") than Nate Dog did during the twilight of his career.
What is very different from Williams' past here, however, is that the man who gave the world such classics as "Jail Bait," "Bacon Fat" and novelty songs about the fragrant similarities between pot and, um, poontang is really very serious, quite adult even, throughout this one. And it all works just great. Not that "Cigarettes and My Old Lady" doesn't briefly almost approach cartoonish misogyny. And the man can still deliver some dynamic and poetic street imagery: "Banana-colored woman in an orange Cadillac with a pocket full of hundred dollar bills ..." begins the title track. But from the moment the LP kicks off with a "Lookee here!" and then a verse about having been inside both a jail and a church on "My Time Will Come," this is mostly an authoritative voice of reason commenting on concerns close to his heart.
In fact, "America" could be viewed as a middle-finger salute to the current teabaggers who appear to believe they're the only real patriots ... and it's accomplished with not much more than the lyrics "You ain't the only one who likes America/ I like America just like you!" (in addition to a few great "hee-hee-hee-hee-hee" vocal inflections) and a dynamic, hypnotic mid-section jam featuring Funk Brothers guitar legend Dennis Coffey. The guitar great also joins Smith's Detroit all-stars on the more garage-y "Just Call Me."
The title song, meanwhile, is a ghetto street opera, featuring such pleas as "If you get my mother out of the projects/ and my dad out of the steel mill ..." Titles don't get much more self-explanatory than "There Ain't No Such Thing as Good Dope," especially when it comes from a man who, despite co-writing "Shake a Tail Feather" (featured predominantly in both The Blues Brothers and Hairspray flicks) and being a genuine R&B pioneer, hit economic and emotional rock bottom before finding sobriety a decade ago. And "Amends," the final tune, delivers exactly what its title says, offering heartfelt regrets to a former lover; it could be one of the 12 steps; it could also give Barry White a run for his money albeit with much less corn and a lot more sincerity.
It's the music, though, behind Williams' deep, half-spoken/half-crooned baritone that makes this all such a joy. There are numerous touchstones in its mostly stoned-sounding, lazy-tempo R&B, of course — running from pure Chicago blues to grooves that wouldn't have sounded out of place on an early P-Funk disc. "America" kicks off with a riff reminiscent of the one that opens Bowie's "Fame" before becoming something that sounds a lot like Ian Dury & the Blockheads meeting Billy Preston, if you can believe that. The title track, meanwhile, takes its musical cues from all over the place — with Philly soul meeting both Bill Withers and the riff from the Staples Singers' "I'll Take You There"... plus a little Stax house band momentum thrown in for good measure. And all stripped-down, to boot!
"Tricks" has the same tension and two-chord charm one might find in a classic Lou Reed solo track ... and not just 'cause "Tricks" rhymes with "Kicks," either. And intentional or not (and it just may be, since the older song's creator could be the poster child for crack-based brain damage), it's nearly impossible to hear the riff that comprises "There Ain't No Such Thing As Good Dope" without also hearing the influence of Sly Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" in its rhythm and groove. And yet, in the end and as a whole, All I Need also sounds incredibly fresh and contemporary at the same time.
Plus, again, a lot of this is going to sound just great on one of those upcoming hot summer days. ...
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to [email protected].