- 15 Apr 20
Southern Soul 'Character' Helped Out By John Prine, Bon Iver, and Jenny Lewis
If you know the name of Jerry Williams Jr. at all, it might be from the small print on records from the likes of Johnny Paycheck or even Lulu where homes were found for songs he wrote with Gary U.S. Bonds – ‘She’s All I Got’ and ‘To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman)’ respectively. Tired of toiling away in the back room, Williams invented the character of Swamp Dogg – ‘Swamp’ in reference to the soul music that was being recorded in Muscle Shoals and ‘Dogg’ because “a dog can do anything, sleep on the sofa, piss on the drapes, hump your mother-in-law’s leg.” William’s dropped a few tabs and Bob was his uncle with 1970’s Total Destruction To Your Mind and 1971’s Rat On! which boasted one of the worst/best album covers of all time as Dogg straddled the giant rodent of the title. Those albums are two Southern soul stompers and should immediately be put into your bag if they’re ever spotted while you’re out record shopping.
Williams/Dogg made many records in the interim – how about I Called For A Rope And They Threw Me A Rock, The White Man Made Me Do It or even 2018’s daft as a brush Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune – but on Sorry You Couldn’t Make It he goes back to his country roots, roots that stretch all the way back to his granddaddy who “just bought country records out the asshole.” Mind you, Dogg claims he has always sounded country anyway, “if you listen to my records before I start sticking shit on it, I’m country.” It’s a fair point and this is a record in line with his southern soul classics - southern soul having always been soul with some hay between its teeth anyway.
Hence, we’re not talking about pick-ups and barbecue country, as you can tell from the yearning in the opening ‘Sleeping Without You Is A Dragg’ where Dogg is helped out by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Jenny Lewis as the horns and organs drag the song to the bridge. ‘Good, Better, Best’ picks things up a bit and heads for the dance floor, before he digs out ‘She’s All I Got’ for himself, imbuing the vocal with just the right amount of desperation and pain.
The tremolo guitar in ‘Family Pain’ points in the direction of the late Tony Joe White, ‘I Lay Awake’ is a beautiful ballad, although it might need a voice slightly stronger that Williams’ to carry it off completely, and ‘I’d Rather Be Your Used To Be’ is good enough for the full treatment from the likes of a Bettye LaVette or an Ann Peebles. The more straight-ahead country ballad of ‘A Good Song’ is exactly that, although the piano-led ‘Billy’ does pull that little bit too forcefully at the heartstrings.
Given recent sad events, music fans of taste and refinement will be interested in the two songs included here that feature the late and very great John Prine. ‘Memories’ is a pleasant enough thing, a gently rolling country-ish song wherein Prine takes the chorus, but ‘Please Let Me Go Round Again’ is a better bet as the two men beg in turn for another chance from life, lamenting the chances they’ve blown, as an organ and a fat guitar testify in the background.
Swamp Dogg looks the business on the cover in bolo tie, western suit and cowboy hat, and he’s sounding good here too. This is a, for the most part, relaxed stroll through the gospel and soul tinged edges of country, as befits a man of his advanced years, and it's one worth taking.