Slide guitarist Lil' Ed Williams learned his craft from his uncle J.B. Hutto, whose stripped-down approach in turn owed a debt to Elmore James's slashing, Delta-inspired style. When Ed takes on the persona of a slide-slinging Lord of Misrule, he can make even the glitziest tourist trap feel like a house party, but in recent years he's also been developing a nuanced side. Though his new CD, Heads Up! (Alligator), is replete with the usual boogie-charged fare, like "Lil' Ed's Home Cookin'" and "Woman in the Castle"--and though he continues to rely on his well-worn but still thrilling armamentarium of screaming, distorted licks, as well as on the churning high-octane blooze kicked up by his backing band, the Blues Imperials--Ed crafts even his most overwrought lines with care and precision, and his deep-chested baritone vocals are heartfelt and sincere. In "Computer Girl," a witty update of the traditional cuckold's lament, he doesn't catch his woman with another man but instead loses her to a machine ("You come home in the evening, sit down at your desk / You turn on your computer, and you know the rest"). Especially arresting are the ballads: on the minor-key "I Still Love You," Ed puts aside his slide to pluck out sparse, crying single-string phrases; on "The Creeper" he plays the backdoor seducer, bringing noirish menace to the part rather than the usual trickster's glee. Although the Imperials don't provide him with much more than house-rocker boilerplate, Ed's total physical and emotional commitment to his music is so exhilarating that you hardly notice--a further testimonial, though a rather backhanded one, to his powers as a front man. This show is a release party for Heads Up!, and Ed will autograph one of his trademark fezzes for each of the first 40 people through the door. Friday, August 30, 10 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Natkin.