Album review: JAMIE WILLIAMS & THE ROOTS COLLECTIVE – Diff’rent Gravy


3Ms Music [Release date 20.04.18]

What’s in a name?  Well, Jamie Williams & The Roots Collective is a suitably titled, all encompassing name for a band that is rooted in 60’s British R&B – minimalist production with evocative vocals – but who think nothing of veering into country blues, Americana and a ragged Stones’ ‘Exile On Mainstreet’ era.

Then there’s also the album title itself ‘Diff’rent Gravy’, which correctly suggests eclectic and adventurous elements.

There’s a lovely spontaneous jumbled up feel to their rootsy music which always focuses on hook driven material, but refuses to be boxed in by labels.

‘Diff’rent ‘Gravy’ revels in the greater sum of its parts, revealing an uncompromising style that finds a rough-edged equilibrium somewhere between rhythm and blues and Americana, with dollops of The Stones, Dylan and the lesser known Sean Tyla.

Jamie Williams & The Roots Collective is a bluesy, country tinged, rootsy, folky, poppy band who occasionally rock out with intent.

They set out their stall on the mid-sixties r&b sound of ‘Little Black Book’. Nick Garner’s harp driven, steam train rhythm and Bo Diddley beat, gives the track a very discernible English feel – think The Pretty Things meets The Downliner Sect – right down to the buzz guitar.

Ultimately they fall back on their own varied song craft which gives the album its unique dichotomous feel.

On the one hand, there’s a ragged meandering quality with a tip of the hat to The Stones ‘Exile on Mainstreet’, and on the other hand, they explore fleeting lush melodies and catchy hooks which give it a more focused feel. And while they sometimes teeter on the brink of oblivion, they always redeem themselves with quality songs and Williams’ weathered vocals.

He knows the value of phrasing and subtle dynamics which resolve little tensions in unexpected ways.

On ‘Godsend’ for example, they mash together Dave Milligan’s opening guitar figure with a country blues harp flutter and an uplifting harmony guitar part, as Williams’s drawled vocal draws us into the hook.

And just when you think you’ve nailed their influences, they veer into the Beatles influenced ‘Bad Ass And Lazy’, with an interesting mix.

They explore the Fab 4’s ‘Taxman’ riff and a Ringo style stuttering rhythm that propels the song into unexpected layered harmonies (a real production treat this), with plenty of cymbal splashes.

It’s a great example of the way the album undulates and flows, as each vocal phrase, occasional Petty style jangling guitar lines and measured blues harp brings colour to their roots palate (pun intended).

Such is their rich eclectic undertow that songs such as the slide-driven, stop-time blues of ‘Lonesome Howl From the Heart’ (early Stones meets Billy Boy Arnold) and the train-time country blues of ‘Bastard County’ almost sound like casual references to their earlier influences.

In contrast, ‘Reaching For The Stars’ digs deeper with an ethereal feel that evokes the enquiring nature of the hook.

‘I Don’t Wanna Break My Baby’s Heart’ most closely defines their style, with its whiny Keith Richard vocal and the kind of catchy hook that glues the album together.

There’s elements of Dylan too, on both the aptly titled ‘Saved’, which goes back to his mid-70’s ‘Desire’ era and the closing ‘Understand’ which perfectly bookends the album.

The celebratory finish is a melange of Dylan, Ian Hunter, The Stones and Springsteen on a surprisingly lush layered production with horns and sparkling piano that lingers long after the final note.

There can be no better recommendation than that. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

David Randall plays a selection of new and classic rock in his weekly show first broadcast 14 June 2020 including reference to the Feature series “2020 Vision”.

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