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Sleaze, Pleez

ANDRE WILLIAMSBait and Switch (Norton)

Since veteran R&B underworld kingpin Andre Williams’ startling re-emergence four years ago, the singer (prized for such late-‘50s classics as ”Jail Bait“ and ”Bacon Fat“) has churned out a glut of new recordings, rolling the bones in an unusual span of musical styles, everything from nasty garage rock to country to artsy NYC electro. Signaling an admirable flexibility and deliberate endeavors at artistic growth, Williams typically takes an approach that’s quite the opposite of many of his retro-mired colleagues. But it‘s here, on his first set to squarely place him back in a classic rhythm & blues format, that Williams sounds as if he’s finally really communicating both to the listener and, more important, to himself.

Bait and Switch, conjured by NYC‘s resolutely retro tradition bearers Billy Miller and Matt Verta-Ray of Norton Records, is a gasser. Williams’ blend of menace and gloom comes mightily through, without a hint of the lackadaisical jive that‘s deadened his last few albums. With a couple of fabulous contributions from duet partners Ronnie Spector (on Ike & Tina’s ”It‘s Gonna Work Out Fine“) and Rudy Ray ”Dolemite“ Moore (taking up the gavel on ”I Ain’t Guilty“), and plenty of solid examples of Williams‘ wigged-out, horny wordplay dancing over ideal rhythmic foundations, Bait and Switch allows Williams to reveal much more than he has in years.

These songs aren’t just fun and games, either. ”Soul Brother in Heaven and Hell“ is a scab-picking remonstrance, delivered with grim authority, that calls up images of Williams‘ personal past, both as high-living R&B rounder and down-and-out panhandler shivering on a snowy street corner. The closing track, ”Burning the Roses,“ translates a standard love-gone-wrong theme into a scalding, apocalyptic howl. Twisting the standard ”mama pin a rose on me“ blues metaphor into an all-encompassing blast of frustration and rage, Williams achieves a depth of raw expression while extending vernacular musical custom, a feat of no small significance. Amazingly, Williams sounds like he’s just getting tuned up here -- and the potential for future breakthroughs is a dizzying prospect.