James Williamson


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James Williamson's feral guitar work on Iggy & the Stooges' epochal Raw Power in 1973 has proven to be wildly influential with the passage of time, but it's also the sole basis for his legend in the minds of many fans. While Williamson collaborated with Iggy Pop on the fine Kill City album (released in 1976), and he produced Pop's 1979 effort New Values, the trail of his career goes cold after that. To take him at his word, Williamson had barely even picked up a guitar for 25 years after he quit rock & roll to study engineering in 1980, and before he reunited with the Stooges in 2009 following the death of original guitarist Ron Asheton. Presumably interested in reaffirming his musical legacy (and with the Stooges on hiatus after the death of drummer Scott Asheton), Williamson returned to a fascinating but often overlooked body of work -- the songs he and Pop wrote and demoed for the projected follow-up to Raw Power that was scrapped when Columbia dropped the band. These songs have appeared on a remarkable number of bootleg and semi-authorized albums, but Williamson decided to re-record them on the album Re-Licked, with a battalion of guest vocalists taking the place of Pop, who declined to participate in the project. In promotional interviews, Williamson says he hated hearing the sound of the various releases of the demos (ironically, it's widely reported that the sources for most of those bootlegs were tapes Williamson himself sold to small labels when he was in dire financial circumstances), and by comparison, Re-Licked sounds big, bold, and glossy, with the full-bodied production and mix those demos (and Raw Power) lacked. Williamson used two core bands on Re-Licked, one anchored by Mike Watt on bass and Toby Dammit on drums (who played on the Stooges live dates in support of 2013's Ready to Die), the other featuring bassist Simone Marie Butler (from Primal Scream) and drummer Michael Urbano; both are capable and drive the songs well, and Williamson's guitar work is as good as ever from a technical standpoint. But Williamson's leads lack the edgy fire he brought to his mid-'70s demos, and no amount of engineering talent can compensate for that. More importantly, Williamson may have written this music, but Iggy Pop wrote the lyrics, and though there are a handful of good to great singers on board here -- including Mark Lanegan, Gary Floyd, Bobby Gillespie, Lisa Kekaula, Nicke Andersson, and Jello Biafra -- none of them match the lunatic intensity Iggy gave these songs, and the sonically challenged bootlegs of "Head On," "Scene of the Crime," and "I Got a Right" still pack more rock & roll snazz than these new versions. James Williamson has every right in the world to take another shot at these songs, but Re-Licked falls short of the grubby magic of those buzzy demos he recorded so long ago.

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