REVIEW: Brooks Williams at the Queens Head, Belper

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By Ed Sills

‘It’s been great, it’s been cool, it’s been hot, it’s been all of the above,’ said raconteur guitarist Brooks Williams as he left the stage to both applause and admiration. And quite rightly so as tonight Brooks proved himself not only to be an exceptional guitarist, but also an accomplished songwriter with vocals to match.

With over twenty albums under his belt the Georgia born singer songwriter Williams fused blues, roots and folk to create his own vision of Americana. But let’s be clear about tonight, it was the blues that ran the game.

Kicking off the set with an acoustic trilogy of big, commanding blues songs Brooks began with fingerpicking classic ‘Deep River Blues’ by Doc Watson, quickly moved to his own song ‘Belfast Blues’ and then finished with slinky bluegrass number ‘Walk You Off my Mind’.

He may look relaxed, but anyone who has ever picked up a guitar will know the steely determination required to not only play those riffs, but to be able to sing over the top of them. Like fellow bluesman Robert Johnson, Brooks is a one man trio - playing bass lines, rhythm and lead and all the while singing. No mean feat.

Midset he switched to steel guitar for punchy break up song ‘Yellow Hummingbird’ and ragtime Blind Boy Fuller cover ‘Weeping Willow’ - a track that showcased the best of Brook’s vocal range and not to mention his mean slide technique. All this though was build up for him bringing out his beautiful Cigar box guitar. Brooks forewarned ‘It’s gonna get good now’ before blasting out a soulful version of the traditional 12 bar blues song ‘Sitting On Top of The World’ – again with slide – much to the delight of the crowd. Like a less trite version of Seasick Steve the three string guitar was put to great effect on his rough and dirty instrumental version of hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ and dusty foot stomper ‘Darkness’.

Highlight was ‘Frank Delandry’, a narrative about the life and mysterious death of the (possibly fictional) legendary New Orleans guitarist; a guitarist so good, that all guitarists along the levee almost quit the business after hearing of his death.

Williams ended with set with another blues standard ‘Hesitation Blues’ before returning to stage to play a strangely affecting rendition of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Friend of The Devil’. An easy going gent with an unparalleled guitar technique, Brooks is a must see on the live circuit.