Pop & Rock
14 APR 11 DAVID SHANNON
Josh Williams may be young for an accomplished bluegrass player (born 1980 in Western Kentucky), but he comes by his prodigious talent honestly -- with dedication and a healthy dose of family influence. That sculpted talent is evident on his Rounder release Down Home, an album full of traditional southern themes sung in Williams' low tenor and strung along by his deft playing.
At age five his grandmother -- herself an adroit vocalist and poet -- taught him to play the ukulele and during the ensuing years of his childhood, under the tutelage of family and friends who played and sang together when they visited the family home, he picked up guitar and banjo, and even taught himself to play mandolin. Williams settled early on the three-fingered style of finger picking (or "Scruggs" style, after bluegrass innovator Earl Scruggs), which suits his occasional taste for rapid tempos and staccato runs along the neck.
His affinity for the south sprouts up on much of the material here. Album opener "Lonesome Feeling" is a homespun and heartfelt paean to his home state of Kentucky that expertly captures his cultural and musical roots. "Blue Water," an easy-paced ballad to the expanses of Texas, is as listless as tumbleweed and allows Williams to really open up and croon. Yet the guitar, banjo, and mandolin playing on these numbers is the clear backbone to the songs, rich in intertwining harmony and melody.
Other tracks rollick along at a torrid pace and display Williams' technical mastery of the fretboard, including "Cherokee Shuffle," an instrumental barnburner, "Streets Of Bakersfield," and the scorching "Stealin' Away." On the closer "The Last Song," Williams laments, "I sowed a lot of oats, I didn't make much hay" while on the road, but any Down Home listener will agree that Williams sounds like he's been making hay for as long as Kentucky grass has been blue.
Josh Williams, from Down Home