Jason D. Williams

Killer Instincts – 2010 (Rockabilly)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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CDs by Jason D. Williams

Jason D. Williams has released his first album in several years with alt.-country mainstay Todd Snider producing and co-writing. The result is a refreshing, albeit eclectic blend of lyrical honesty infused with Jerry Lee Lewis style rhythm and a touch of Tom Waits.

Williams, long a practitioner of the Lewis school of piano gymnastics, has been trading on his musical resemblance to the Killer for more than 30 years. Vocally never as expressive as Lewis was at his peak, his voice is a bit weak in spots. However, when he sits at the piano, Williams is every bit the elder pianist's flamboyant equal.

When he isn't doing JLL-type boogie, the Arkansas-born singer-songwriter allows pleasingly odd songs to dominate his playlist. Abstract humor and left-field wisdom abound in If You Ever Saw a Baby With Its Pud, You Look Like I Could Use a Drink, White Trash Wife and the lighthearted gospel of Mr. Jesus. Further, Williams saunters into Tom Waits territory with the barfly ballad Crippled Down and the tour of hell essayed in Big Green One. Instrumentally, Yes I Can highlights this artist's genuine claim to versatility, one of his by now standard forays into classical music.

Yet, Williams knows what his audience really wants - him sounding like Jerry Lee Lewis. Whether slamming full-tilt through a Lewisian rendition of Wine Spo Dee O Dee, the Breathless inspired What Am I Gonna Do or drooling the in-your-face honky-tonk of To Hell with You, the 51-year-old brings a zest to his music that, quite frankly, Lewis can no longer muster.

That said, Like Jerry Lee, is the most compelling reason to check out this 14-song set. A hard rocker in the Memphis tradition, it tackles head-on the oft-repeated rumors that Williams might be Lewis' illegitimate son. Alternately skewering his possible parent and venting his own neurotic fears, he confesses in song: "I don't know if he is or he isn't/I could've found out one time but I didn't/either way it'd be more than I can stand." It's the bravest, most revealing moment in the career of Jason D. Williams, and it just happens to be on his most interesting album ever.