Brooks Williams blows his reputation on his new CD, and it's about time
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., February 13, 2003) – Brooks Williams is a familiar face with a solid reputation in our region for his rootsy, virtuosic guitar style and his literate-bordering-on-mystical original songs. But the Pioneer Valley-based singer-songwriter just might blow his reputation as a sensitive singer-songwriter with his brand new CD, Nectar (Signature Sounds). And it’s about time he did.

Released earlier this week, Nectar is likely to introduce Williams to new and larger audiences, and deservedly so. By slightly tweaking the settings of his songs -- the album was recorded in Nashville -- and taking advantage of a wider musical palette that incorporates influences from soul, r&b and the Beatles – yet with no sacrifice to the purity or intimacy of Williams’s previous efforts -- Williams reveals himself to be the Pioneer Valley’s answer to Mark Knopfler.

Like the Dire Straits frontman, Williams – who celebrates the release of his new CD at the Iron Horse in Northampton tomorrow night -- is a cinematic songwriter who builds his unique brand of original folk out of a fusion of roots music – blues, country, Celtic – mixing it with Beatlesque melodies and rock ‘n’ roll rhythms. Producer Phil Madeira colors the tracks on Nectar with evocative keyboards, and a solid rhythm section keeps the tunes chugging along.

Backup vocalist Rollyn Zoubek plays Tammi Terrell to Williams’s Marvin Gaye on his soulful “Half the Grace” and a few other numbers, including a rousing version of Aztec Camera’s “Birth of the True.” But Williams’s voice and guitar are always front and center, the former sounding like a smooth cross between Jakob Dylan and Tom Petty, the latter getting workouts on John Martyn’s “May You Never” and Memphis Slim’s “Mother Earth.”

Les Sans Culottes

Cross the New York Dolls brash pre-punk with French cabaret and you get something like Les Sans Culottes, a faux-French, New York-based band that plays at Club Helsinki tonight. The tongue-in-cheek band -- whose name means approximately “Men Without Pants” and whose members include Celine Dijon and Jean Luc Retard -- sings lyrics like “The savages dance naked on the beach/Around an iron cauldron they act like freaks/They cook a nice bit of flesh/Its own juices making it glisten.” It sounds a lot nicer in French.

Teri Roiger

As heard on her CD, “Misterioso,” Teri Roiger – who leads her trio at the Castle Street Café tomorrow night -- is a sophisticated, musicianly jazz vocalist who favors compositions by Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, sometimes offering original lyrics inspired by the tunes, and sometimes recalling Abbey Lincoln or Betty Carter. Roiger also performs original songs by her trio partner and arranger, bassist John Menegon, who has just released his own CD of original compositions, “Search Light.”

The music on “Search Light.” ranges from the African/Andean-inflected title track to the funk/fusion of “Loose Leaf” to the lyrical balladry of “Texas.” For the most part Menegon plays as a member of the ensemble, but he drives the melody of the aptly-titled “Free Bass.”

Menegon’s CD features instrumental contributions by saxophonist Dewey Redman, reedman John Gunther, guitarist Mark Dziuba, drummers Tani Tabbal and Mark McLean, and vocals by Roiger. A member of David “Fathead” Newman’s quartet, Menegon has performed and recorded with Kenny Barron, Bruce Barth, Paul Bley, Anthony Braxton, Nick Brignola, Kenny Burrell, Jack DeJohnette, Al Foster, Slide Hampton, Sheila Jordan, Lee Konitz and J.R. Monterose.

When they’re not performing, Roiger and Menegon teach at Williams College and at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Corey Glover

Corey Glover isn’t typically thought of as a romantic lead singer. The sometime actor (“Platoon”) is best known as the frontman for the hard-rock group Living Colour. But Glover will be singing against type tomorrow night at Mass MoCA, when he performs a Valentine’s-themed program at 8 in Club B-10, MoCA’s new alternative performance space.

Next Thursday, Club-B10 is also the venue for a screening of “Scratch,” the latest in MoCA’s Cinema Lounge series of music documentaries. In “Scratch,” filmmaker Doug Pray explores the world of the DJ, from the pioneers of hip-hop to the invention of scratching to the contemporary art of turntablism. Interviews, live performances and raw footage combine to give viewers a front-row seat into this spectacle, in an attempt to answer the question, can playing records really be an art form? DJ Spooky, who performs his “Rebirth of a Nation” multimedia show at Mass MoCA in two weeks, will be on hand to introduce the film, part of “Stalwart Originality: New Traditions in Black Performance,” a week-long conference presented by Williams College.

Murali Coryell

The Coryells, like the Brubecks before them, are fast becoming a musical dynasty. Father Larry Coryell was a pioneer of jazz fusion guitar, and son Julian Coryell is a jazz-pop singer-songwriter with several albums to his credit.

Now Murali Coryell, who is actually several years older than Julian, is garnering acclaim as the next big thing in the Coryell family for his soulful vocals, tight r&b-influenced songwriting and virtuosic blues-rock chops.

Coryell, who has performed with Greg Allman, George Thorogood and Wilson Pickett, and who has recently been touring the Northeast as the opening act for blues guitar legend B.B. King, performs at Armi in Great Barrington on Saturday at 10. Coryell’s latest CD, the self-produced “Strong As I Need to Be,” shows Coryell to be an equally strong writer and player, combining a Hendrix-like, blues-based instrumental approach with the white-funk sound of Little Feat and the Band.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on February 15, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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