Roadhouse Album Review: The Hungry Williams band swings with abandon on joyous “Let’s Go!”

The Hungry Williams — “Let’s Go” — Rochelle Records

This swinging little album has been around since September, and every time I’ve played the music, I’ve reminded myself that I needed to write about it.

Obviously, I did not.

But now I am.

Charles “Hungry” Williams was a great New Orleans drummer, and John Carr is a fine Milwaukee drummer. Their two worlds collided in 1995 when Carr heard some old ’50s R&B and got an itch to make some of that music himself.

And when he finally scratched that itch, somewhere around 2015, he had the name ready — The Hungry Williams.

They put together their first album, “Brand New Thing,” in 2019, but Carr still wasn’t satisfied — he still wasn’t hearing that sound on record that he had in his head.

Until he heard a song by the California Honeydrops, with just the right sense of warmth and presence that he wanted. Carr lured the engineer of that sound, Jacob LaCally, to help create what would become the relaxed, swinging and spontaneous vibe of the music on “Let’s Go.”

For the session, Carr assembled a cast of veteran players designed to produce that sound: bassist Mike Sieger, lead vocalist Kelli Gonzalez, former bandmates guitarist/vocalist Joe Vent and keyboardist Jack Stewart. For this album, Carr added Jason Goldsmith on tenor and Casimir Riley on baritone sax.

All of that led to this sprightly album of New Orleans-tinged music that slings around some R&B, a little Latin feel, and best of all, a lot of fun.

It all kicks off with “Mardi Gras Day,” an original by Carr and Gonzalez (released earlier this year in time for that celebration), with a joyous romp featuring a Gonzalez vocal and a terrific second-line trumpet solo by Lech Wierzynski of the Honeydrops.

Stewart wrote the next cut, “Movin’ On,” as tribute to Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. And most of the band joins Gonzalez on LaVern Baker’s “You’d Better Find Yourself Another Fool.” Then something that harks back to Big Maybelle, “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.” “Gee Baby” is a New Orleans chestnut originally recorded by the duo Joe & Ann.

“Boss Man” is another NOLA rhythmic Carr/Gonzalez original, horn-laced, with a nod to the other big boss man Jimmy Reed, followed by “Big Mouth Betty,” a Gonzalez original with a light R&B flavor. Then it’s “Oooh Wow” another NOLA classic by Domino’s guitarist, Roy Montrell. Guitarist Joe Vent gives the vocals his touch with some more great horns (they’re actually everywhere on the album – one of its brightest spots).

Gonzalez follows with “Then I’ll Believe” a rousing gospel-flavored song from Martha Carter. Then a strong secular finale from Carr and Gonzalez again, “669 (Across the Street from the Beast),” with the appropriate shoutout to Old Scratch himself, who may well be the man on the sax.

One of the best things I can say about this fine album is that it’s just a hell of a lot of fun. The band snaps, the vocals crackle, and the whole thing just joyously pops. Everything just fits, which is a tribute to Carr’s vision of gathering the cast together in a room and making great for you to enjoy. Which you definitely should.

“Movin’ On,” from the album:

About the songs:

“Mardi Gras Day” A Carr/Gonzalez original
that was originally was released in February,
2022, for the holiday. At the session, Carr
realized the track really needed a trumpet
solo. LaCally knew Lech Wierzynski from the
California Honeydrops. And again, thanks to
the internet, Lech added just the right flavor
of a second line marching down the street.

“Movin’ On” This is a Stewart original that
features the classic strolling Fats Domino
rhythm of countless rock ’n’ roll singles.
Stewart says, “‘Movin’ On’ is my tribute to Fats
and Dave Bartholomew. The band and Jacob
capture that spirit.”

“You’d Better Find Yourself Another Fool”
The Hungries love to sing, and you’ll hear that
in this Lavern Baker number.

“One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” Who
doesn’t love Big Maybelle? The Hungry
Williams REALLY do. This is one of three songs
of hers in the repertoire.

“Gee Baby” A classic NOLA single, it’s been in
the Hungries’ library since the beginning.

“Boss Man” A Carr/Gonzalez original. Carr
says, “This song came to me in a matter of
minutes. Half an hour later I had a demo to
share with everyone. That never happened to
me before.”

“Big Mouth Betty” A Gonzalez original, she
says, “It isn’t really about any person and
it’s not autobiographical, despite popular
opinion. I just thought it would be fun to tell
a little story.”

“Oooh Wow” A NOLA R&B classic by Fats’s
guitarist, Roy Montrell. This features lead
vocals by Vent.

“Then I’ll Believe” Gospel tinged song from
classic NOLA label Ron Records, this has been
in the book from the very beginning.

“669 (Across the Street from the Beast)”
This was a joint effort from Carr, Gonzalez, and
Vent. At the studio, the plan was to record
long enough for a fade, but once the band got
going, it was too much fun to stop. So, what’s
it like having Satan for a neighbor? You’ll have
to listen to find out

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