Strumming a small child's guitar and tapping a giant bass drum that rattles like an earthquake, Amanda Jo Williams spins country-fried yarns about growing up in Georgia, hitchhiking to Woodstock, the men she's loved and the cosmos she abides by, with a voice somewhere between Minnie Mouse and Tammy Wynette sucking helium. If Devendra Banhart is the prince of freak folk, Amanda Jo Williams is its patron saint.
Moonshine might have complimented the Echo Country Outpost's taxidermy decor, but free-flowing Metl Reserva mezcal served as a formidable substitute for celebrating the re-release of Williams' 2006 album Yes I Will, Mr. Man. Local label White Noise (Blank Tapes, Gangi) offered to put it back in print, having been fans since Williams traveled to Los Angeles a year ago to play a Manimal Vinyl residency.
Soon after, she moved here and began spreading her strange, simple, poetic songs about bears, shopping cart sex and Vietnam.
Yes I Will, Mr. Man reveals Amanda Jo circa 2006. Her voice cracks, crunches, and barrels out wildly. AJW in 2010 has a softer lullaby touch.
Comparisons to Johnny Cash and Gram Parsons are sweet, but those guys did more drugs and wrote songs from a dark place. Lach, who founded the anti-folk movement, describes Williams as a “Sexton fairytale,” which fits better (even though Sexton was a pretty troubled lady).
Raised in the deep belt-buckle discipline South, our young mother of three has seen plenty rough times. Yet, Williams imbues her songs with positivity, optimism, and love for life.
On Saturday night, the Outpost hooted for favorites “Country Girl,” “Soul In Songs,” “Bear Eats Me,” and “Nickel On My Back.” “Ohio” and “All The Mountains” off Mr. Man fared just as well delivered as honeyed, backlit jams. Similar to a kid's story, these songs describe a girl that left her porch and comforts behind to somehow save the world and fall in love. A stand-up bass, a cooing guitar, a free-wheeling hand percussion section led by her 8-year old daughter Hominy, and additional guitar by Woodstock's Paul McMahon brought the hootenanny out of the colorful crowd.
Amanda Jo Williams put together quite a line-up. Paul McMahon–the father of her twins, who taught her to play guitar–is in town speaking about his artwork. Wearing a purple velvet suit beneath his long silver hair, McMahon is a folk wizard. His sexy song “Milk Me” was dirty, funny, and filled with beautiful imagery. Matthew O'Neill stomped out bizarre mountain rock with an atypical guitar style. Henry Wolfe had the crowd weeping and holding themselves. Almost any word he says cuts straight to the core. His dreamy voice and lyrical conciseness just about rip your chest open, but gently. He's My Brother, She's My Sister closed out the night, bringing every person to their feet trying to keep up with tap dancer Lauren Brown's percussion. Rob and Rachel Kolar's voices mingle like glamour in the desert. Steeped in the 1920's and the 2000's, this band makes party music for coyotes drunk on champagne.