Delos is an established classical label, so when it decided to expand to jazz, it was no surprise that it turned to singer Joe Williams. Williams is both classy and classic, and has been since the mid-'50s, when he anchored (and, some people feel, saved) the Count Basie Orchestra.
On "Nothin' but the Blues," Williams shows that he hasn't forgotten his roots with rollicking versions of "What She Do," "Sent For You Yesterday" and "Going to Chicago Blues" (the latter two out of the Basie-Jimmy Rushing book) and some songs associated with his solo career, such as "Allright, OK, You Win.".
As always, Williams is a commanding singer. His intensely dramatic baritone rides clearly over a jump and blues lexicon that's not only uplifting but illustrative ("I feel as low as a snake in a wagon track," he moans on "Rocks in My Bed," and if you can't see it, you're not listening).
It helps, of course, that Williams is backed by a group of genuine blues stars, including saxophonists Red Holloway and Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson, organist Jack McDuff, guitarist Phil Upchurch, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Gerryck King.
These players, brought together for this album, are all grounded in the irrepressible and unrepentant blues tradition, ready to pound out the declamatory "Hold It Right There" or to wrap around Williams on the sorrowful "Just a Dream," despite the fact that all the arrangements were only in their heads. Still, it's Williams' virile, polished performance that keeps things jumping 30 years down the road from Basie's band. JOE WILLIAMS -- "Nothin' but the Blues" (Delos DMS4001); appearing Friday at 8 at Howard University's Crampton Auditorium.