10 songs – 35 minutes
Cal Williams Jr is an Australian folk-blues singer/songwriter/guitarist whose reputation has been steadily growing in recent years, both at home and in the UK. Little Black Crow is his fifth solo album, and it follows the blueprint of his previous releases, featuring impressive acoustic blues and folk songs, played with raw energy, intricate guitar and stellar slide.
Opening with “Down To The River”, Williams strums his acoustic whilst throwing in short single note flourishes around the vocal line. He sings in a gentle, high tenor voice not dissimilar to Mississippi John Hurt both in pitch and in subtle, aching melancholy, even on the upbeat numbers. “Long Legged Woman” follows, with the lyrics making explicit reference to Mississippi as Williams celebrates the love he gets from his woman.
But while there are definite Delta influences in Little Black Crow, especially in Williams’ slide playing, there are also strong hints of folk in songs such as the Neil Young-esque “Kickaround” and “Pale Blue Dress” and the vocal harmonies on tracks such as “Lead Me Down The Line”, as well as the folk-influenced Piedmont blues of Blind Willie McTell and Blind Boy Fuller.
Williams wrote eight of the tracks himself. The two covers are Bukka White’s “Parchman Farm” (cleverly re-imagined) and the traditional “Lord Have Mercy On My Soul”. The originals are as impressive as the covers, having a resonance to them such that tracks like “Lead Me Down The Line” could have been written in the Mississippi Delta in the 1930s.
Williams is joined on a number of songs by long-time collaborator, Kory Horwood, on double bass and harmony vocals and the extra voice adds additional emotional depth to songs such as “Parchman Farm”.
Williams’ guitar playing throughout is highly impressive, and his slide playing is utterly authentic, masterful and emotionally complex. “Hard Times A-Coming”, which sounds like a distant cousin to Skip James’ “Hard Times Killin’ Floor Blues”, is a prime example. Williams adroitly uses light and shade to keep the momentum of the song moving forwards.
This is a relatively short album, with all 10 songs clocking in at just 35 minutes, but there are no fillers or wasted moments on Little Black Crow.
If you’re a fan of traditional acoustic guitar blues, with a little folk influence, reminiscent of early Kelly Joe Phelps, then you have to listen to Little Black Crow. It’s a very impressive and very enjoyable release.