James Williamson

James Williamson with the Careless Hearts

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It sometimes seems like every note James Williamson played during his tenure with the Stooges has been released in some form somewhere; there have been literally dozens of albums (bootleg and otherwise) drawn from live shows, rehearsals, and demo sessions recorded while Williamson worked with the group, many purportedly sourced from his own tape collection, while only a tiny handful of unofficial recordings circulate with Ron Asheton on guitar. So it's amusing and somehow appropriate that this album exists. After Asheton's unexpected death in early 2009, Iggy Pop invited Williamson to rejoin the Stooges, who had been touring steadily after their re-formation in 2003. Williamson quit playing music in the '80s and pursued a career as a businessman; he'd begun playing guitar again as a hobby after taking early retirement, but knew he'd have to get his skills in fighting shape if he was going to resume playing in public. Williamson was friendly with Derek See, who worked in a San Jose, CA guitar shop and played with a band called the Careless Hearts; Williamson started jamming with See and his band on old Stooges numbers, and he asked them to back him up for a small club date. James Williamson with the Careless Hearts is a warts-and-all document of that show, the first time Williamson had stepped on-stage in 35 years, and most of the time it sounds like the work of an enthusiastic cover band ripping through a set of Stooges numbers, dominated (as you'd expect) by tunes from Raw Power. What sets this apart, of course, is that the cover band has the actual lead guitarist on hand, like a Black Sabbath tribute act being blessed by the appearance of Tony Iommi, and considering his time away from the stage, Williamson sounds surprisingly great here. He's a shade less agile here than he was on Raw Power, but far more exacting than on the vast majority of late-period live Stooges recordings, and he takes on a few Asheton-era numbers like "1970" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and does right by his former bandmate's memory. This set also includes a few selections from Kill City, Williamson's ill-fated 1974 collaboration with Iggy, and "Johanna" and "No Sense Of Crime" are great tunes that deserve a wider hearing. And though the Careless Hearts won't replace the Stooges in anyone's book, they play with as much heart and enthusiasm as they can muster, and vocalist Paul Kimball sounds sincerely thrilled to be singing this material. James Williamson with the Careless Hearts is yet another live tape of the guitarist playing the same handful of songs that made him famous, and you've probably heard him do them all before and better. But for an AARP-eligible guitarist jamming with a garage band after a three-decade-plus layoff from rock & roll, it's good fun and much better than anyone had a right to expect. [The package also comes with a DVD of the same show, but it was shot with a single, stationary camera that never changes angle, and looks more like something caught by a security camera than a real rock & roll show.]

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