There are plenty of vocalists out there that seem to believe that singing is simply a matter of who can scream the loudest or consistently contort their voice in an escalating game of vocal gymnastics. When a vocalist who truly understands the art of singing shows up, they may get overlooked due to the lack of showy displays. One listen to the eight tracks on this self-titled release will quickly prove that Billie Williams has the voice and training to sing anything. Possessing plenty of power and range that was developed in bands and theater productions including a stint with the Lenny Nelson Project when she arrived in New York City, Williams can confidently convey the full range of the emotional landscape without the slightest hint of strain.
“Going Down” finds her in the midst of a failing relationship, sharing her pain yet sounding strong enough to make it through. The song was co-written with guitarist Stew Cutler, who uses his slide guitar to emphasize the heartbreak. Williams takes a more reserved approach on “New York Winter” that doesn’t diminish the sense of loss, tempered by her prayerful pleas. “I Can Read The Signs” is a forceful, bluesy declaration of a woman who can clearly see that her lover has moved on without her. Her soaring tones get additional emphasis from a horn section consisting of Birch Johnson on trombone, Charlie Lagond on sax, and Marty Bound on trumpet. Jeremy Mage’s fingers dance across the keyboard on the moody “Misery Loves Company (Take Me Down)” while “Runnin’ Back” grooves along like an Al Green outtake, Williams sounding as sweet as honey.
The opener, “Nail In Your Coffin,” is also full of Memphis-style soulfulness that detours slightly for Cutler’s strident solo. The musical surge that starts “Black And Blue” quickly fades to another dark examination on lost love, with the horn section, featuring Steve Bernstein on trumpet, Erik Lawrence on sax, and Alan Ferber on trombone, add strong accents behind a withering Williams performance. Things aren’t any better on “Lonely Night In Harlem”. Double-Z on bass and Tony Allen on drums & percussion combine with the horns to create a jazz-tinge backdrop for one last fervent turn from Williams.
This is an impressive disc from a singer who was inducted into the New York Blues Hall Of Fame two years ago. While the material is not based on standard blues progressions, the power and concise phrasing that Williams utilizes allow her to dive deep into the emotional well on every track. Definitely one worth checking out.