Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rockin’ Jason D. Williams: “Hillbillies And Holy Rollers” (2014) CD Review

Hillbillies And Holy Rollers, the new CD from Rockin’ Jason D. Williams, is full of great old-time rock and roll and rockabilly, with a focus, obviously, on piano. Word is Rockin’ Jason D. Williams is likely the biological song of Jerry Lee Lewis. I believe it. Just listen to him play and sing on tracks like “Fingernails,” “Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor” and “Mean Woman Blues.” Hell, even if they aren’t related by blood, the same music is running through their veins. They are coming fundamentally from the same place, a place that rocks and swings and is glorious. By the way, “Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor” features some great work on bass by Geoff Firebaugh, and a bit of a yodel at the end.

Hillbillies And Holy Rollers opens with the title track, an original tune written by Jason D. Williams and Dale Watson, a song which features some great stuff by Jason D. Williams on piano. There’s a wonderful moment in the instrumental section where there’s a transition from him on lead to a guitar lead, and as the guitar takes over, Jason plays a little something more on keys. It’s brief, and you might miss it, but it’s a delightful touch that just adds to an already-fun tune. There is an acknowledgement of the old feel of this music in the lyrics: “The more things change, the more they feel the same/The way we did it in ’55 is how it’s done today.” This song also has direct mentions of Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as a nod to “Amazing Grace” at the end. All in all, it’s a very cool way to kick off the album.

Williams follows it with “This Is Rock & Roll,” another original tune, this one co-written with Mike Harber. It’s about hearing rock and roll on the radio while growing up, and is an homage to Jerry Lee Lewis, both in the style and also in the lyrics. The piano playing is certainly influenced heavily by Lewis, as is, to a lesser extent, the vocal approach. The song mentions “Whole Lotta Shakin’” (and also “All Shook Up”).  I particularly enjoy the instrumental section at the end. It’s a lot of fun.

Jason D. Williams offers an interesting rendition of “Folsom Prison,” with a much different feel from Johnny Cash’s original. This is less country, more rockabilly, with a steady danceable rhythm. And I love the way he holds onto “blues” on the line “When I hear the lonesome whistle blow my blues away.”

Williams then turns “You Win Again” into a kind of a sweet and easy duet with Sarah Gayle Meech, and even includes a string arrangement by Chris Carmichael. Jason sings, “But I trusted you,” and Sarah says, “And now who’s the fool?” At one point when he sings, “You win again,” she responds, “Yeah, I win again,” and there is some sarcasm in her voice, which is great. To hear the other perspective and see how no one really wins. This is a truly interesting take on a familiar song. (Just a side note: Jerry Lee Lewis has also covered “You Win Again.”)

Johnny D. Williams also does a fun version of “Sweet Georgia Brown.” This track features nice work by Matt Arnn on drums, including a brief solo, and also a cool lead on bass by Geoff Firebaugh. But of course it’s the piano that drives this cool rendition, with that wonderful ragtime vibe.

“House Of Blue Lights” is one of my favorite tracks, particularly because of the great work on bass. And there is some delicious vocal play as well. This one is just a delight through and through, with a cool jazzy vibe. It was written by Don Raye and Freddie Slack. This version mentions Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.

"Old Time Religion" begins with a bit of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” then kicks in, with a wonderful gospel bent to the vocals, particularly the backing vocals. This is a traditional gospel tune, but with some additions to the lyrics, turning it to a song about rock and roll, with lines about The Who and The Rolling Stones ("If it's good enough for The Who, Rolling Stones too"). Listen to this track, then put on Holly Golightly And The Brokeoffs’ “A Whole Lot More…” (from Sunday Run Me Over). This version ends with a return to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

Hillbillies And Holy Rollers ends with a cool rockabilly version of “I’ll Fly Away” that still retains some of that gospel feel. This is a song I’ve always loved. And this rendition has a lot of energy. It ends with just piano and vocals, and so Jason jokes, "Where did everybody go?"

CD Track List
  1. Hillbillies And Holy Rollers
  2. This Is Rock & Roll
  3. Folsom Prison
  4. You Win Again
  5. Fingernails
  6. Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor
  7. Sweet Georgia Brown
  8. Mean Woman Blues
  9. House Of Blue Lights
  10. Old Time Religion
  11. I’ll Fly Away 

Jason D. Williams performs lead vocals and plays piano. Joining him are Geoff Firebaugh on bass and backing vocals, Ronnie Crutcher on guitar and backing vocals, Sleepy LaBeef on guitar and backing vocals, Matt Arnn on drums and backing vocals, Sarah Gayle Meech on vocals and backing vocals, and Dale Watson on backing vocals (Watson also produced the album).

Hillbillies And Holy Rollers was released on June 10, 2014.

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