Josh Williams: An Homage29 January 2013
We pestered Josh Williams plenty at last year’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival and as you can see from our previous posts, he put up with us with grace and humor. While we appreciate Williams’ candor and detail in responding to our many questions, seems like we ought to take a break from the talk and let the man do what he does best…
“Blue Railroad Train” is a vintage country blues from the Delmore Brothers, but as Williams points out in his introduction, he learned the tune as it was popularized by Williams’ mentor Tony Rice in the 1970’s. When Williams says that he is offering his rendition as an homage to Rice, he seems to be referring primarily to the instrumental licks, but he can also channel the sound of Rice’s younger voice to great effect— a fact not lost on Rice himself.
Back when he recorded “Blue Railroad Train” for his classic album Manzanita, Rice could both play and sing with abandon. Over the ensuing decade, however, illness largely robbed him of his voice, forcing him to team up with other singers. For the past several years, Williams has been a fixture in The Tony Rice Unit, where he has played mandolin and handled lead vocal duties.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else being a more fitting vocal surrogate for Rice than Williams. While he certainly has a voice that’s all his own, Williams shares Rice’s affinity for soulful country vocals. It’s an oversimplification to put it this way, but you could say that the key to Rice’s sound was that his guitar was playing jazz and his voice was singing country. That description fits Williams’ style as well.
Only a genuine hot shot would announce that he’s going to play a song the way Tony Rice does— inviting inevitable comparisons between his performance and that of the maestro. Should you feel compelled to measure Williams’ version against Rice’s, there’s a video clip on YouTube of a live performance from Rice with a stellar edition of The Unit.
Yer Pal— Curly