BY JASON GROSS
If you’re a fan of Usher, Frank Ocean, Pharrell or Miguel, you owe it to yourself to discover this old-school weirdo who’s been making gritty, hilarious soul music for decades now. Jerry Williams, started out in the ‘50s as a prodigy singles artist and went on to work as a songwriter and producer alongside Gary U.S. Bonds and Gene Pitney among others. He transformed into Swamp Dogg circa 1970, becoming a prolific album artist during that decade and making some of his best work then. His productivity dropped off after that, with albums coming out every few years and live shows becoming even rarer than that.
Last heard from in 2009 with a covers album (Give ‘Em as Little as You Can) and a cynical holiday record (An Awful Christmas and a Lousy New Year), Mr. Williams returns to form with his scraggly, hilarious, political persona intact. In the great tradition of Richard Pryor and more recently Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, Dogg deftly comments on race with humor and righteous anger— before, he unleashed the ironically proud “Call Me Nigger” and “I’ve Never Been To Africa (And It’s Your Fault),” and now he shares not only “Prejudice Is Alive and Well” (amen to that) but also the epic title cut, which is a history lesson that spans from George Washington Carver up to Jay-Z, P-Diddy and Oprah.
Also proud to show off his roots and pay tribute to them, he does a nice job with Sam Cooke’s sweet “You Send Me” (greasing it up a little here) and a pair of ‘50s doo-wop songs with the Clovers’ down-and-out “Your Cash Ain’t Nothing But Trash” and the Coasters’ “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” (comedy that’s close to Dogg’s heart), plus he worries about the fate of Sly Stone (“Can Anybody Tell Me Where Is Sly”), as we all do. Elsewhere, the fair sex vexes him (“Lying Lying Lying Woman”) and lustily draws him in (the hysterical “Hey Renae,” who’s sexy enough to attract both genders). Musically, he’s leaning heavily here on New Orleans, brandishing a second line shuffle and bringing punchy horns into the mix, making for a satisfying treat for old fans. Newbies would do fine starting out here but might find it easier to get hooked with the recent reissues he’s done of his early albums like Total Destruction to Your Mind, which you can find at http://swampdogg.bandcamp.com/.
And one request to Mr. Williams- consider teaming up with Blowfly and/or Andre Williams for your next record. Their hilarious soul hijinks definitely make them kindred spirits.
DOWNLOAD: “Hey Renae,” “The White Man Made Me Do It”