Monday, June 8, 2009

CD Review: Cal Williams Jr - “Morning Star”

Within the first 30 seconds of the opening track you know you’re in for something special on this CD, Morning Star, from South Australian, Cal Williams Jr. The instrumental track, Greyhound, slowly builds and is an example of Cal’s commanding guitar skills on the acoustic slide. He uses his slide, finger-picks and caresses the strings quite masterly, all the while a deep bass note humming along in the background. And just when you think Cal is going to go off onto some fast paced guitar solo he brings it back to a very mellow tone. It is superb track and lays down what to expect from the rest of the CD; some first class aural treats.

Cal is a folk/blues artist who plays slide acoustic guitar and sings in an quavering falsetto, almost Skip James like, voice. He is backed by Kory Horwood on upright double bass on most tracks and when Kory is not laying down a mellow groove he is moving the song along with an almost metronomic percussive beat. He and Cal play a wonderful introduction to a cover of Son House’s “Death Letter Blues”; almost Danny Thompson like.

The other covers on this album are a wonderful version of Bob Dylan’s “I shall be Released” and the traditional songs “Lonesome Valley” with its gospel/folk arrangement and a Reverend Gary Davis take on “cocaine”. The other 6 tracks are all written by Cal Williams Jr. and he certainly has stepped up to the mark with his own tracks.

He is also accompanied on many of the tracks by violinist, Tori Phillips, which gives the songs a country-blues feel. Emily Davis adds vocal accompaniment, especially effective on “Cocaine” and Anthony Pak-Poy, a former teacher of Cal’s from Adelaide University, adds acoustic guitar to a number of the tracks which fills out the overall sound nicely.

Skip James, Leo Kottke, Nick Drake, Ry Cooder are all evident in Cal’s playing and writing, of which he has received several awards here in Australia for “South Australian songwriter of the Year” and which has garnered praised in Britain, where he spent several of the past years. He has now returned to Australia and plays many live gigs with his band around his hometown of Adelaide.

On Morning Star, Cal certainly gives a great follow-up to his previous CD “I loved you with all the madness in my heart”. This CD was full of Cal’s interpretations of blues standards. Morning Star takes this further where he is writing his own songs which sound like they have come from book of blues standards. He certainly displays that he can hold his own in the acoustic blues world and that the previous CD was not a one off. Morning Star makes you sit up and listen but at the same time allows you to float away on the songs…is that possible? Yes, with this fine collection of songs, great production and fine musicians, it is!