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December 2008

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Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials
Full Tilt
Alligator Records

Lil Ed

Too many people only see and hear a novelty act when it comes to Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials. Ed’s entertaining stage antics (sliding across the stage, performing duckwalks and backbends, popping his eyeballs out, etc) are memorable. However, the five foot one inch entertainer possesses more talent than a court jester.

Full Tilt is his seventh album for Alligator Records. It features the same four core band members who have been together for 20 years. Combining honest vocals with searing slide guitar, Williams is the J. B. Hutto of our generation. Kelly Littleton gives the drums a workout and attains a full and rich sound. The remaining Blues Imperials include Mike Garrett (guitar) and Pookie Young (bass). Guests include Eddie McKinley (sax) and Johnny Iguana (keyboards).

Williams’ wife Pam began contributing songs on Ed's 2002 album, Heads Up. Out of the 14 songs here, they collaborated on seven while Ed himself wrote four songs.

Lil’ Ed’s records consistently come overloaded with energy. On Full Tilt, this is evident right from the opening notes of the hard and hot rockin’ first track. Here, Williams slides up and down his fretboard like a slithering snake. It is one ass-kickin’ and outlandish-sounding song. After that ferocious onslaught, the listener can take a breath during the mid-tempo Housekeeping Job. Although its vocals tell a tale of destitution, more emotion comes from the spirited guitar.

"Don’t Call Me" is a hard-blasting, guitar-driven, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll song. Here, the guitar lets loose like a car accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour. Listen to the lyrics and you’ll think Williams was the innovator behind the “Do Not Call” list. The Contours’ classic "First I Look At The Purse" is houserockin’ music that’s performed in its purest and rawest forms. Chicago blues slide guitar master Hound Dog Taylor – the originator of Alligator’s Genuine Houserockin’ Music – is honored on a wild cover of "Take Five."

Williams is equally proficient in delivering pleasurable ballads in addition to raucous rockers. "Check My Baby’s Oil" is a slow blues with clever and fun lyrics. The song offers an automobile metaphor on the age old “another mule been kickin’ in my stall” scenario. "Life Got In The Way" allows you to focus on the genius of Williams’ vast guitar skills, which far too often go unnoticed. Here, Williams delivers the most heartfelt vocals on the album. The song is about being in love with a woman that you can’t have. The protagonist is in love deep, and the passion boils over during a stimulating guitar solo. The minor key "Every Man Needs A Good Woman" is another bittersweet melody with killer guitar that cuts straight to where emotions enter your bloodstream. The lyrics speak more of the same truth that Ed preaches throughout the album. Slashing slide guitar penetrates on "Love Don’t Live Here Anymore."

The CD’s strongest song, "Woman, Take A Bow," tells of “Two lives … ruined now” by a no good two-timer. While the rhythm is hypnotic, the guitar shears its way into her core values. "Dying To Live" is another song that tells of a stark reality. Musically, it contains the same highlights as "Take A Bow." However, the autobiographical lyrics merely hint at the troubles that Lil’ Ed has faced and conquered.

Yes, some things are old, some things are borrowed, and some things are new. The majority of songs follow a similar blueprint, and too many end with Williams shouting out, “1-2-3-4.” That being the case, this CD still contains the same winning formula as on his previous Alligator recordings. So let Lil’ Ed rock your world into a Full Tilt.

--- Tim Holek


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