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Andre Williams
Bait And Switch

Andre Williams for Beginners: The co-writer of "Shake a Tail Feather" (among hundreds of other R&B tunes), he also was a performer in his own right, scoring minor hits in the mid-'50s with sexually charged tunes like "Jailbait" and "Bacon Fat." He gained a reputation as a highly entertaining live performer and sharp dresser, but by the end of the '60s he was strung-out and broke.

Flash forward to the mid-'90s, when Williams cleaned himself up and jumped back into the music game. 1998's Silky found him fusing his nasty R&B with scorching indie-rock, courtesy of a backing band made up of members of the Dirtbombs and the Demolition Doll Rods. Song titles included "Agile, Mobile and Hostile," "Pussy Stank" and "Let Me Put It In" — all songs being as infectious as they were sleazy. In 1999 he returned with Red Dirt, a country-soul album with indie-rock aesthetics, sporting songs like "She's a Bag of Potato Chips" and "My Sister Stole My Woman." Williams went the alterna-rock version of the Santana Supernatural route with The Black Godfather in 2000, going full-tilt indie-R&B-rock on songs like "Whip the Booty" and " Sling That Thing" backed by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Cheater Sticks and others. Which brings us to Bait and Switch, one of the most criminally ignored albums of last year.

Bait and Switch basically finds Williams coming full circle — crooning and shouting R&B songs with a wink, a smile, a hint of menace and only a bit of the sloppy indie-rock flavor — a la Silky. Backed with glorious ferociousness and passionate sloppiness by former Madder Rose bassist Matt Verta-Ray on guitar, former A-Bones bassist Marcus "The Carcass" Natale on bass, session-man Willie Martinez on drums, saxophone players Lonnie Youngblood and Lars Espensen and doo-wop group The Four Dollars, Williams presents R&B the way cats like R. Kelly and Sisqo just can't: gritty, hot and scandalous.

There are some exceptions — "Head First" (think about it — got it?), "Sling It Bang It and Give It Cab Fare Home" and "Hey Country Girl" are high-speed rave-ups that it's easy to envision accompanied by girls in Go-Go boots doing The Pony on an after-dark edition of "Hullabaloo." Otherwise, Bait and Switch easily sends the listener back on a trip to small clubs on the old "chitlin circuit," with Williams making the ladies swoon on slow grinders like "Bigger Than Need or Greed" and moving the crowd with such butt-shakers as "Detroit Michigan." In addition to turning out great performances of his own, Williams is also generous with his guests: Ronnie Spector shines on a duet remake of Ike Turner's "It's Gonna Work Out Fine" (if one can call Williams' heckling of Spector throughout the song a duet), and comic legend Rudy Ray More spars with Williams as "Judge Dickhead" on the borderline-blues/rock of "I Ain't Guilty."

Bait and Switch is occasionally too glorious a mess, as Williams sings with more passion than need to hit the right note. If you're a stickler for fancy studio recordings, it may be hard for you to enjoy the songs where levels are usually one or two notches past where they should be and sax solos fade quickly from the foreground to the background and back again. On the whole, though, Bait and Switch tugs at the heartstrings, tickles the funny bone and moves the dancing feet in all the right ways.

by Randy Reiss

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