AFTER YEARS of being poorly recorded (and under-recorded) by jazz and pop labels, vocalist Joe Williams is finally getting his due -- from a company that specializes in classical recordings.

His latest release, "I Just Want to Sing," is an unqualified delight and a worthy successor to last year's Grammy Award-winning "Nothin' but the Blues," also available from the same label, Delos.

This time, however, Williams deserves even more credit. Acting as his own producer for the first time in his long career, he's assembled a marvelous cast of musicians -- among them, trumpeter Thad Jones and tenor saxophonists Eddie (Lockjaw) Davis and Benny Golson -- selected a richly varied collection of songs, and played a part in arranging them in fresh and colorful ways.

However, even without the inspired setting, Williams' singing alone would lift this album out of the ordinary. The elegance and resonance of his strong baritone voice are confirmed time and again in a remarkable variety of contexts, from a bossa nova treatment of "After You've Gone," to the funky "Fat and Forty," to the gorgeously rendered spirituals "Down by the Riverside" and "Heaven."

JOE WILLIAMS & FRIENDS -- "I Just Want To Sing" (Delos/DMS 40004); Williams appears with his own combo Friday through Sunday at Blues Alley.