Listening to Blues on the Internet (Delmark), the latest album by septuagenarian Emery "Detroit Junior" Williams Jr., you'd never know he's been battling health problems for more than a decade. Despite bouts of kidney trouble and diabetes, the jubilance of his rock 'n' roll-flavored piano style hasn't diminished, and his vocals--which have become increasingly hoarse in recent years--sound almost miraculously supple. Williams is best known for his song "Call My Job," a hit for Albert King in the mid-70s, and he reprises it for the new album, leaving room for a sassy spoken-word cameo by local blues singer Zora Young. On the title track Williams and guitarist Maurice John Vaughn evoke an uptown noir vibe, while his lyrics wittily update classic blues themes of heartbreak and honky-tonks with DSL-era imagery. Rockers like "Hot Pants Baby," Lowell Fulson's "Rockin' After Midnight," and "Party All Night Long" (which features some delightful yakkety-yak sax by Eric Schneider) are buoyed by Kenny Smith's sparsely propulsive percussion work, but Williams's broad-fingered keyboard playing has plenty of drive itself. The protofunk rhythm of Junior Wells's "Messin' With the Kid" seems to baffle everybody, but overall this is by far the strongest set Williams has released in years. The Willie Davis All-Star Blues Band & Brian Lupo, whose tough-edged west-side sound recalls Howlin' Wolf's band when Williams himself played in it, will back him up. Sat 12/4, 10 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage, 773-342-0452, $15. Williams also plays solo every Thursday-Saturday, 8 PM, at Kingston Mines, 2548 N. Halsted, 773-477-4646.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.