They say you can’t keep a good Swamp Dogg down and that’s certainly the case for 77 year old Jerry Williams, still going strong since he started making music in the late 1950s. Best known for a slew of cult albums in the seventies, recorded mainly in Muscle Shoals with Williams claiming to be influenced by LSD and Frank Zappa, he also claims to have been into country music since his childhood. Indeed, his 1972 release, Cuffed, Collared & Tagged included a tremendous interpretation of John Prine’s Sam Stone.
Sorry You Couldn’t Make It follows on from William’s 2018 “comeback” album, Love, Loss And Auto-Tune and he retains his coterie of admirers from the Americana world including Justin Vernon. It’s a much more organic album with a full-blooded Memphis soul sound despite being recorded in Nashville, check out the Staples like groove of Good, Better, Best. There are moments when it falters as on the sentimental Memories, a song which features John Prine singing with Williams. It would probably sound fine in a stripped back fashion but the arrangement is over fussy with outdated effects.
However, from the opening and classic soulful surge of Sleeping Without You Is A Dragg, a real soul swamper of a song, all of the necessary ingredients are present and correct for a very fine slice of country soul. Stabbing keyboards, metronomic percussion, waves of churchy organ and baleful horn riffs along with clipped and tight guitar lines allow Williams to bear comparison with the likes of Solomon Burke. Don’t Take Her (She’s All I Got) is in a similar style and it’s worthwhile noting here that Williams wrote this song back in 1970 and watched Johnny Paycheck take it to the top of the U.S. country charts in 1971. Here Williams reclaims it as his own. Perhaps the most powerful of all these soulful numbers is the heartbreaking I lay Awake which is awash with Duane Allman like slide guitar. Less churchlike, there is Family Pain, an intoxicating blend of country fiddle and stinging guitar with Williams railing against the drug epidemic in Curtis Mayfield mode .
John Prine returns for the closing song, Please Let Me Go Round Again, a much more successful collaboration, as these two old friends reflect on their lives as if they were swapping tales before a toasty hearth. As the band vamp on in quite a brilliantly laid-back manner, the pair chat, allowing us to eavesdrop. It’s quite wonderful and the recent death of Prine gives the song an added poignancy.