Tim Williams – So Low | Albun Review

timwilliamscdTim Williams  – So Low

LowdenProud Records Ltd.

10 songs – 33 minutes


One listen to this short, but sweet CD and you’ll have no question why Tim Williams walked away with top honors in the Solo/Duo category at the 2014 International Blues Challenge.

Originally from Los Angeles but based out of the plains of western Canada for the past four decades after a brief stay in Vancouver, he’s a gifted multi-instrumentalist skilled on most stringed instruments who possesses a warm, rich tenor voice. No stranger to the recording studio, he released his first album on the Epic label in 1970. It was produced by the legendary Chris Strachwitz, founder of the Arhoolie label.

A three-time nominee for the Juno Award, Canada’s equivalent to the Grammy, as well as several for the Toronto Blues Society’s prestigious Maple Blues Award, he’s also skilled in the control booth, too, earning Juno recognition for his production work on Ray Bonneville’s Rough Luck album. A songwriter, too, he’s been published by country music legend Mel Tillis and recorded by zydeco superstar C.J. Chenier.

Proficient on guitar, mandolin, banjo and dobro, Williams recorded this album solo in one take and without the benefit of any editing or overdubs. The only accompaniment were occasional foot taps from his winged-tip shoe on the studio floor. It’s a masterful recording with few, if any flaws. Self-produced and released on his own label, it features a 50-50 mix of covers and tastefully chosen originals.

So Low kicks off on a funky note with a version of Mose Allison’s “If You Live,” a personal favorite of the guitarist. He toured extensively with the piano virtuoso in the early ‘70s. Next up, the tasty “More Peppers In Your Chili” is an original Williams composed after observing how many different spices he had scattered around his house. It puts his fingerpicking on display.

Tim pulls out the mandolin next for a reworking of Big Bill Broonzy’s “My Big Money” – about the cash promised but denied to African-American GIs in World W-ar I — before switching to slide guitar for the “Anywhere c/o The Blues.” It describes troubles in the world and advises: “Keep your hand on your wallet/And one eye on your brother/While you’ve got your shoulder to the wheel.” Despite being a new tune, it has a timeless feel that fits perfectly in the mix of the song that came before and the reworking of Blind Boy Fuller’s “Pistol Snapper,” which follows.

Tampa Red’s “The Witching Hour” comes next before the original “The Grizzly Bear,” which is based on a craze of the early 1900s in which folks tried to mimic the bear’s movements on the dance floor. This version is based on one Williams heard performed by Geoff Muldaur, a key member in the Kweskin Jug Band of the 1960s.

Johnny Cash’s early hit, “Big River,” precedes two more originals to conclude the set. “Midnight After Midnight” features Tim playing in drop-D tuning in the style of Lonnie Johnson as he sings about walking the floor nightly, worrying about the way he’s being treated by his woman. “Lightnin’” is a finishing tip-of-the-hat to Lightnin’ Hopkins, who was one of Williams’ biggest influences.

Available through CDBaby and other online retailers, So Low is a terrific example of the timelessness of acoustic blues.

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