There are many reasons for recording an album: to make a point about the state of the world; to tell a story; to celebrate the beauty of music or just for the fun of it. Ostensibly, Ready For The Times, the second album by Brooks Williams and Aaron Catlow falls into the last category but listen carefully and there are points being made. Their previous album, Ghost Owl was modern and firmly in the “celebrate the beauty” category but this takes them back to their guitar and fiddle roots with songs old and new in the old time Americana style.
The album was recorded off-the-floor with no overdubs and you can hear the lightness in their playing from the off. The opening track, ‘I’ve Endured’ was written by Ola Belle Reed and her son Dave. It sounds old but only dates to 1975 when Ola was nearly sixty and feels auto-biographical. The album’s title comes from Allen Reynolds’ ‘Ready For The Times To Get Better’ from the same decade and features a free-flowing violin solo by Aaron that gives it a somewhat wistful feel.
If I’m not careful this will turn into a history lesson but I have to point out that Rab Noakes’ ‘Jackson Greyhound’ although a recent song, looks back in tribute to the freedom riders. There’s no getting away from history. Aaron begins playing pizzicato after Brooks’ guitar intro before taking up his bow for another mighty solo and returning to plucking at the close.
I imagine that you’re getting the picture now. Excellent if sometimes understated guitar playing and equally excellent if rather more exuberant fiddle playing are matched with fine, interesting songs. Brooks wrote two of the tracks and co-wrote a third with Boo Hewerdine – the rather wonderful ‘Snake Oil’. There is one instrumental track, the mournful ‘Elk River Blues’, written by old-time fiddle player Ernie Carpenter and another, the rather more upbeat ‘Night Shift’ that closes the album. Two railroad songs, Jean Ritchie’s ‘The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore’ and ‘CC&O Blues’ by Pink Anderson precede that and, in truth, there isn’t a dull track in the set.
The best thing about Ready For The Times is that it is very enjoyable listening. You can think about things if you wish but you don’t have to, although there is a very fine take-home message: “If you want the rainbow, you must have the rain”.
Artists’ website: www.brookswilliams.com
‘Church Street Blues’ – live in isolation: