You might not think that New Orleans and Milwaukee have much in common. Once you’ve heard the band Hungry Williams, however, you’ll change your mind. That’s because bandleader and drummer John Carr heard the New Orleans Chess Anthology in 1995 and was completely transformed. Yet, he played all over town, not fully capturing the ’50s-60s R&B sound he loved until a decade later when he recruited bassist Mike Sieger with whom Carr had been playing since 1991, lead vocalist Kelli Gonzalez, and former bandmates guitarist/vocalist Joe Vent and keyboardist Jack Stewart. For this album, Let’s Go, Carr added his favorite sax players – Jason Goldsmith on tenor and Casimir Riley on baritone sax. So, yes, this is a retro trip to music from sixty- seventy years ago.
“Mardi Gras Day’ is not the Professor Longhair or Dr. John song you may be familiar with but an original. It retains that second line feel however, punctuated by guest trumpeter Lech Wierzynski in his only appearance. Keyboardist Stewart penned “Movin’ On” in tribute to Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. All of the core band members except Carr go full-throated on LaVern Baker’s “You’d Better Find Yourself Another Fool.”
The band has a penchant for the vintage female belters, electing to cover three of Big Maybelle’s tunes – “One Monkey Don’t Stop the Show,” “Gee Baby,” and “Then I’ll Believe.” Gonzalez begins the former in a purring spoken word style, but the band comes in to frame her defiant words, imbued by Goldsmith’s tenor solo. “Gee Baby” is a NOLA staple, and the band captures its classic jukebox sound, we associate with Ron Records. The same can be said for the strolling piano driven “Then I’ll Believe.” “Oooh Wow” is another NOLA classic and was written by Fats’ guitarist Roy Montrell. The band’s guitarist, Jow Vent, takes the lead vocal and the unmistakable Fats sound rolls out with especially strong turns from the two horns.
The others are all originals. “Boss Man,” from Carr shows Gonzalez at her belting best, framed by strong sax turns from both players, as Stewart continues to show his authentic Crescent City feel. Gonzalez delivers her story song, “Big Mouth Betty,” which echoes the kind of melodies we associate with doo-wop groups like the Coasters, underpinned with Riley’s bari sax. Carr, Gonzalez, collaborated on the closer, “660 (Across the Street from the Beast”) which doesn’t adhere to the two-three-minute format of the other vintage radio-like songs. It allows Riley to stretch out in his honking style as the band shuffles along, with their sense of humor intact, all singing as Carr slyly mimics the voice of the devil underneath.
This is all about fun. Summer isn’t over yet – The Hungry Williams will undoubtedly get your next party into full swinging motion.
- Jim Hynes