Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Call Williams Jr. Honeychild Album Review


This CD review was originally published in the February 7, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Cal Williams Jr – Honeychild

Self Release

10 tracks / 36:25

Over the years I have enjoyed a lot of great music from Australia and it looks like I am going to have to add Cal Williams Jr’s latest CD, Honeychild, to the list of winners. Cal is a singer and guitarist that has been working hard to get his music heard, having toured the UK and played with many great artists, finally ending up back in Australia where he plays with his own band, teaches guitar and records.

Honeychild is Williams’ third album, and as usual he takes on the lead vocal and acoustic guitar roles. He is joined by a fine group of musicians, some of whom are members of his regular band line-up. Included are Kory Horwood on double bass and vocals, Manny Kechayas on drums, Anthony Pak Poy on back-up guitar, Emma Luker on violin and Ben Timbers on the banjo. Besides co-producing the album with Anthony Stewart, Cal also wrote half of the songs on this release.

There is a nice collection of songs on this CD, which contains a balanced mixture of folk and blues sounds thanks in no small part to the use of banjo, acoustic guitars and double bass, not to mention Williams’ pleasant country-styled voice. By the way, I hear no Australian accent when he sings. The five cover tunes range from the 1920s to the 1960s, and were popularized by the likes of Nick Drake, Simon and Garfunkel, and Louis Armstrong. His five original songs blend well with these blues classics, and showcase his strong songwriting skills.

I am guessing that Cal Williams Jr is a fan of Nick Drake (as am I), as he included two songs that Drake recorded: “Blues Runs the Game” and “Smoking Too Long.” “Blues Runs the Game” is the opening track on Honeychild, and this has to be my favorite version of this song which says a lot because a lot of big names have tried to make it their own. His guitar is clear as a bell, and his voice and phrasing are perfectly suited to the material. Luker’s fiddle work adds another melodic layer to fill out this song and solidifies the whole effort.

“Smoking Too Long” is one of my favorite songs by the esteemed songsmith Robin Frederick. As always, Cal’s guitar is nicely picked, but in this case his voice comes out strongly and carries the load. The only other accompaniment is the double bass which is used to produce two great tones. First there is the percussive plucked part which is gloriously woody and natural sounding, and then there is an aggressive bowed interlude. This track was very tastefully put together, and with the forward-placed bass parts there was no need for drums. This collection of first-rate cover tunes is rounded out by the traditional “St. James Infirmary,” which was popularized by Louis Armstrong, J.B. Lenoir’s “Mama Talk to Your Daughter” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark was the Night.”

Mr. Williams put four of his original tunes in a group in the first half of Honeychild, and when listening to the album as a whole you do not really notice a change in tone or style when he switches from his songs to others’. This is not so much that he is aping the other writers, but is instead remaking their songs into his own style. This helps the album to stand as a single entity, rather than just a collection of tunes that was thrown together to complete a package.

His guitar work is impeccable throughout, and there is a nice interplay between his top-shelf picking and Ben Timbers’ banjo on “Ole 49er” which has a folk/blues sound and straight-up blues lyrics. Then Cal shows his versatility and changes up his sound to combine delta slide guitar with a Bo Diddley beat on the title track. His “New York Central” captures the Louisiana vibe with plenty of slide guitar and more of those beautiful round bass parts under his gorgeous voice. There is even an instrumental, “Geshe La,” which is a marvelous quilt of tones and textures that is a showcase of Williams’ talents, and could easily be used as his musical resume. He is really a masterful player, and his years of hard work have certainly paid off.

I really enjoy listening to Honeychild, and my only regret is that there is not more of it to listen to. None of the songs are very long, with a few of them coming in under three minutes, and a total play time of only 36 minutes. But everything that he included on the disc is really high quality stuff, and sure enough I got plenty of them stuck in my head over the past week. I think that this music is compelling and you should surely give this new Cal Williams Jr album a try.


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