Contrary to all good sense and musical justice, Davey Williams, outside the small circle of first wave, post-free jazz improvisational music, still remains underheard considering both his technical expertise and surreal genius. This flies in the face of good ol' horse sense. I'm guessing that Davey wants nothing to do with elitism, whether it be with his music or his humble, down-home Alabama roots. For Davey, it's always been about commitment to his music, always looking to broaden his horizons. In addition to the fact that he's a virtuoso and introduced the blues-slide via the whammy bar to non-idiomatic, Davey also inaugurated a Vaudevillian sense of humor into his performances, bringing something new into a music all too-often laden with an off-putting air solemnity. As he has said, “I can't properly describe myself as a true vaudevillian for three main reasons: I don't dance, I can't sing and play guitar at the same time and I can never remember any good jokes. On the other hand, a musician playing on a stage is an inherently boring sight much of the time…This is why I began to get increasingly interested in this 'vaudevillian' idea of using improvised performance as a vehicle for trying to be open to extra-musical ideas and activities. For the most part this consists mostly of what you might call messing around on stage, interrupting or delaying the musical seriousness (if there is any) with the idea that I'm actually doing - or trying to do - something else, except that I happen to be standing in front of an audience with a guitar around my neck.”
Perhaps it had to with Williams earning his chops playing the southern blues circuits with likes of Johnny Shines, and in fact, his and LaDonna's story is begging for a biography (hint). I've also reviewed the latest outing by LaDonna elsewhere—should be up at FD sometime soon. When speaking of the origins of improvisation in the U.S., leaving the likes of Davey Williams and LaDonna Smith out is tantamount to eliminating Derek Bailey and AMM out of the conversation of groundbreaking playing across the big ditch. Doing so is shabby and ignorant.
Through the years, those who have closely followed the developments, the intersections, forks in the roads, off-ramps and detours of jazz, blues, classical, rock and any number of genres ingeniously combined with non-idiomatic flourishes are quick to acknowledge his incredible contributions to a legacy which will endure for a long as music will ever matter. “Antenna Road” is yet another document attesting to the the attributes mentioned above, and also takes a step in another direction for Williams, who recently took up the sitar.
As cerebral and soulful as any guitarist of his or any era, Davey forged his idiosyncratic modes of playing both through conscious technique as well as a healthy nod to both surrealism and Dada—for instance, using motorized toys, electric screwdrivers and the like. Though he has discussed his methodology and theory, it hasn't been without hesitance. It's as if he understood the limitations of language as a way to fully characterize his work. My impression isn't that he feels it's a futile effort, but rather made the conscious decision not to excessively talk about what it is he does, choosing instead to the let the music do the talking for him. For instance, on his philosophy, Davey astutely states, “They say you can't compare apples and oranges. You can compare oranges and butter, however. Butter is a different color, and they don't taste the same. This is the basis of my philosophy.” It goes without saying, then, that this aptly describes his new record.
As far as Mr. Williams' solo discography is concerned, this is one of his most quad-fisted records to date, surpassing even “Charmed, I'm Sure.” “The Trance (Version 2)” is a testament to this, but in keeping with his unpredictability, the song following that one, “The Street Is An Empty Knife”is a song, and a rarity at that because he sings. Though he has sung in the past, most notably with his ensemble O.K. Nurse, Davey rarely sings. It's nearly always a treat when he does, though, because his lyrics are characteristically absurd.
“Antenna Road” is a 30-song journey into an as-yet unnamed dimension highlighting his talent for overdubbing. The meat of the record is guitar, but he also plays dobro and sitar, and is yet another brilliant outing from an innovative, funny and ingenious artist. 10/10 -- P. Somniferum (9 December, 2009)