Alligator Records ALCD 4972
14 songs – 53 minutes
When Lil’ Ed Williams and his Blues Imperials hit the stage, fans around the world know they’re in for a treat. Now in their 27th year with the same four-man lineup, they consistently please audiences with their rough-hewn brand of West Side Chicago blues and balls-to-the wall passion, and this CD, the ninth release in their lengthy Alligator Records catalog, is as consistently pleasing as the many award-winning albums that preceded it.
Ed was born into the blues. This writer met him for the first time when he was 17 and working at the Red Carpet Car Wash. Still wearing a yellow, rubberized jumpsuit, he was on stage at the legendary Sylvio’s bar, home to Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Rush and many others, and backing Lee Solomon, aka Little Wolf, one of several artists to share that moniker.
Williams learned to play from his uncle, slide master extraordinaire J.B. Hutto, and carries his memory forward today, delivering a brand of what label founder Bruce Iglauer terms “houserockin’ music,” picking up where Hutto left off and seamlessly carrying his tradition forward, honoring him by wearing a fez, like J.B., and occasionally playing one of Hutto’s reconditioned Airline guitars.
But Ed’s no copycat. He’s a larger-than-life, humorous, energetic showman of the highest order, and his musical family – half-brother James “Pookie” Young on bass and Detroit natives Michael Garrett and Kelly Littleton on guitar and drums – provide what seems to be effortless support, but which couldn’t exist without three decades of rehearsals and thousands of gigs together. They fit together like hand to glove.
Williams and his wife Pam wrote 12 of the 14 songs here and, as he does regularly, he pays tribute to J.B. by incorporating two of his tunes to fill out the disc. Flushing out what already is a powerful sound is Japanese-born, Chicago-based Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi on keyboards.
The disc kicks off innocently enough with casual, straight-ahead blues, “Giving Up On Your Love.” But things heat up quickly. “Raining In Paris,” which follows, features Ed’s slide work as he compares the tears of desire he’s shedding for a distant love with the precipitation he’s experiencing in the French capital. Single-note guitar runs are prominent on “Poor Man’s Song,” which recalls another sleepless night because he’s woman’s split because she was tired of living in poverty. It seems like the pawnbroker is his only friend.
A cover of Hutto’s “Shy Voice” cranks up the speed and intensity of the band’s performance even more before the loping “Black Diamond Love” eases the pace as it describes a bright night and catching the eye of beautiful woman while recalling something that Louisiana Red had told Ed – about the stars pulling diamonds out of the sky.
The uptempo “Whiskey Flavored Tears” delivers more powerful slide work as Williams sings about the discovery that his woman’s been cheating before “I’ll Cry Tomorrow,” an intense slow-blues J.B. cover, puts the waterworks on hold. In this one, he’s manning up, helping the lady pack and transporting her to her train because he knows she doesn’t care anymore.
Next up, the syncopated “Is It You?” kicks off with a stop-time intro as it asks if the object of Ed’s affection is responsible for keeping him awake at night. The stops are off for the rocker “I’m Done,” a rapid-paced shuffle, before “Deep In My Soul” features Ariyo and delivers a dose of burning single-note Chicago blues.
Slide action returns for “I Want It All,” another uptempo shuffle, before the band delivers another food-related tune that fans have come to love. Like predecessors “Chicken, Gravy & Biscuits” and “Icicles In My Meatloaf,” “I Like My Hot Sauce Cold” is a winner. The blues “Troubled World” scorches before “Green Light Groove” brings the album to a close.
The Blues Imperials are one of the best bar bands on the planet, and this disc captures them at their best. Available everywhere, and highly recommended.