Motor City icon and veritable musical institution Andre Williams returns with a tough, cocksure love letter to his beloved city.
The reemergence of Detroit is, if not quite yet national news, certainly a hot topic in the state of Michigan. In the wake of the city’s bankruptcy and subsequent literal and metaphorical collapse, Detroit has become a bastion for young artists and musicians. With its appealingly low housing costs and unique real estate opportunities, the city has morphed into something of a mecca for those looking to express their creativity in an area rich with history and potential. It’s a story that’s been well documented elsewhere and in greater detail, but I Wanna Go Back to Detroit City, the latest release from Andre Williams, plays as a love letter to and for the city that has given him so much.
Having spent the majority of his personal and professional life as a resident of the Motor City, Williams is no stranger to the city’s ups and downs as he himself has experienced a career that, in many ways, mirrors the city’s rise and fall and subsequent rebirth. With a recording career stretching back to the late ‘50s and rock and roll’s R&B-indebted birth, Williams has long since staked his claim to authenticity and a direct link between today’s garage rockers and their evolutionary ancestors. In this it comes as little surprise that he has been sought out for his contributions to not only raw and ready rock and roll, but also his skills as a producer, collaborator and all around hell raiser.
Opening track “Detroit (I’m So Glad I Stayed)” set the tone for much of the album with its confident strut and garage rock backing. After announcing, following a false start, “I’m a Democrat with a Republican attitude: I’m for everybody,” Williams deploys his gritty, phlegmatic rasp praising the resurgence of his beloved city. It’s a dirty, grease and grime covered celebratory anthem that feels like the aural personification of Detroit’s rough and tumble existence.
This, coupled with the title track helps established a sort of cocksure confidence in where the city has been and where Williams’ sees it going as a result of its most recent artistic renaissance. The title itself could be taken as either a desire to return home after years on the road or a plea to return to a previously devastated home that is in the midst of an unlikely rejuvenation. Either way, the one-line lyric repeated over and over again could well serve as a marketing campaign slogan and soundtrack for those looking to bring young talent to the city to help further its revitalization.
On “Hall of Fame", he takes to task the deification of certain artists to the detriment of others who have given just as much, if not more, and yet remain unrecognized. Of course any glimpse at the list of inductees over the years would quickly indicate a decided favoring of the more mainstream artists who spent time dominating the charts. Williams, who has been performing since the birth of rock and roll, delivers a spoken rap listing off his many accomplishments within the industry atop a surging garage rock backing.
It’s in this stylistic juxtaposition that Williams’ latter day output could well be the most emblematic of the Motor City, combining R&B, blues and gritty rock to create a unique melding of the two that feels both classic and modern. Much like the city itself, Williams has taken the best remaining elements therein and used them as a solid base on which to rebuild after a four-year recording silence.
“I Don’t Like You No More” features a John Lee Hooker-esque crawling king snake blues with Williams giving his no good woman the definitive kiss-off/fuck you in the hand-wringing, dismissive “One thing I know / I don’t like you no more”. It’s this type of somebody-done-me-wrong-but-fuck-them sentiment that Williams conveys the best. And with the majority of the album adhering to this thematic element, I Wanna Go Back to Detroit City largely plays to his strong suits.
Around the album’s halfway point, however, things begin to run off the rails. Following the six-foot-under vocals of “Meet Me at the Graveyard” and the oddball spoken “Mississippi Sue", it’s as though Williams’ focus wanders off the map. By “Morning After", a shuffling instrumental blues that never really catches on nor takes off and instead plays with a sort of circuitous quality that becomes hypnotic after a handful of times through the progression, Williams is nowhere to be found.
Given the length and breadth of his career and spread of influence, Williams can be forgiven a few missteps here and there. And despite his concern to the contrary, he can rest easy knowing that, regardless of any sort of mainstream recognition or acceptance, his musical legacy has left its mark where it counts most. And for that, fans of gritty Detroit rock and soul owe Andre Williams a debt of gratitude.