Lenny Williams’ new CD, Still in the Game, is a testament to his staying power. The 12-track album has a little something for everyone, from contemporary R&B to smooth jazz to down home blues. Actually, Still in the Game evolves from contemporary to old school, but still in a contemporary package, musically speaking. As with many independent albums released by legendary R&B artists, on Still in the Game the keyboard is used to replace horn arrangements, and all too often the drum program can take away from both the song and the artist. Those flaws aside, the album does grow on you as it progresses.
Honky Tonk Blues is an expanded director's cut of an American Masters television special about Hank Williams, and every minute of it illuminates Williams's importance as a seminal artist and American archetype. Produced with an understated fascination for the country legend's gifts and demons that shortened his career, played havoc with his marriages, and led to a haunting death at 29, Honky Tonk Blues builds a seamless profile from rare footage and rich interviews with (among others) Rick Bragg, Big Bill Lister (Williams's longtime opening act), Hank Williams Jr., and members of Williams's backup band, the Drifting Cowboys. Williams's story, including his mentorship in the blues by Rufus "Tee Tot" Payne, childhood loneliness, and emergence as a whole-cloth singer-songwriter "who taught people it's okay to bear your soul in everyday language," is thoroughly compelling and resonates with many American originals (e.g., Kurt Cobain) who followed him. An outstanding documentary.
The shear breadth and diversity of artists gathered for this benefit project, Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams, is a tribute to the affection Victoria Williams' peers had for her. It conveniently also makes for heady listening for any fan of contemporary music. The hard, brittle edges of Soul Asylum ("Summer of Drugs") and Buffalo Tom ("Merry Go Round") stand shoulder to shoulder with the country-folk of Lucinda Williams ("Main Road") and Maria McKee (an inspired and riveting "Opelousas (Sweet Relief)"). Sweet Relief offers a unique opportunity to introduce yourself to an enduring songwriter while savoring some of the day's most intriguing musicians. How sweet it is!