Detroit Junior
Take Out the Time
Blue Suit 109D
A whim, or maybe being born at the wrong time, is the only possible explanation why Emery Williams Jr. isn't at least as famous as Eddie Boyd or Lafayette Leake. A pianist with some friendly gravel in his voice, Williams failed his audition for Chess Records in the 1950s and has labored, more or less, in obscurity ever since. It's too bad, because he walks the piano with enthusiasm and personality, and covers R&B classics -- Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" and Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill" -- as if he's lucky to have such good songs in his hands.

"Detroit Junior" (hey, as the liner notes explain, he's a junior and he lived in Detroit) starts slowly on his second CD for the Toledo, Ohio-based Blue Suit Records. The opening tracks, "Take Out the Time" and "I Got High Last Night," are plain old 12-bar blues, barely foreshadowing the aggressive hop to come. The long-time piano-bar singer seems more confident with other people's material, accelerating the pace -- and the energy level -- several notches on the always-funky "What'd I Say," Amos Milburn's "Chicken Shack Boogie" and Willie Mabon's "I Don't Know."

As a soloist, Junior mostly holds back, choosing to fuel the song (or yield to guitarist and producer Maurice John Vaughn) instead of showing off. The exception is the traditional "Trouble In Mind," in which his left hand stakes out a steady, swinging rhythm and his right hand curves through so many fast-fingered solos that it's difficult to keep up. Like Floyd Dixon's 1996 comeback album, Wake Up and Live!, Junior draws an important line to the days when piano players could actually become major blues stars.

As a singer, Junior's voice doesn't quite have Domino's aggressive sexiness or Dixon's playful smoothness, which may explain his failure to catch on at Chess so many years ago. But he more than makes up for it with humor, relishing every syllable in "Ba-BEE" throughout "I Don't Know" and gleefully repeating "woo-ooo-ooo" and "wa-ah-ooh-wa-ooh-wa-ooh" throughout Domino's "Please Don't Leave."

-- Steve Knopper

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Boulder, CO, USA.