Album Reviews Joseph Williams - Denizen Tenant

Published on 12th March 2021

Joseph Williams – Denizen Tenant


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Joseph Stanley Williams is an American singer, songwriter and film score composer, best known for his work with rock band Toto, as their lead singer from 1986 to 1988, 2010 to 2019 and again from 2020. He is the son of acclaimed film composer John Williams (Star Wars, Jaws, ET) and actress Barbara Ruick and a grandson of jazz drummer Johnny Williams and actors Melville Ruick and Lurene Tuttle. He’s certainly no stranger to showbiz! Before his period with Toto, Williams had already started a solo career with debut album Joseph Williams in 1982. Nearly forty years later comes his tenth solo album Denizen Tenant is being released. The ‘denizen’ from the title should be read as ‘foreign’.

The album will be released at the same time as the new solo album from Toto’s Steve Lukather, I Found the Sun Again (which you can read my review of HERE). A duo release, so to speak. Both men are close friends, the last to keep the Toto torch burning, and have contributed considerably to each other’s new albums. But where Lukather opted for a relatively small group of friendly musicians, Williams invited almost the entire studio mob of LA, especially the group with a Toto past, to take part.

Twelve songs, eight self-written or in combination, two songs by others (Steven Overton and Jay Gruska) and two covers: Don’t Give Up by Peter Gabriel and If I Fell by Lennon and McCartney.

Opener Never Saw You Coming is a slow, dark rock song with a recognisable sing-along theme, tension, excellent harmony vocals and a mean guitar solo by Mike Landau. A great start to the album. Liberty Man is one of those songs that show off Williams’s versatile voice best. From a calm waltzing rhythm by Simon Phillips to rocking with a sharp edge, it’s a good composition as well.

The title track has a promising start with contrary rhythms and jazzy influences. An intriguing song with puzzling lyrics: “Right hand to the Leftenant”, no idea what that means, other than a cunning play of words. Wilma Fingadoux is Williams’ attempt to write a modern song. I would like to leave it to the listener whether he succeeded, it certainly sounds contemporary, with lots of rhythm samples and even a cello. And the entire Williams family on vocals.

Toto veteran David Paich plays a lead role on the Hammond organ on Black Dahlia with that lazy, swinging West Coast style we’ve come to expect from bands like Steely Dan. Great bass guitar from that other Toto alumni, Nathan East. Don’t Give Up is the well-known Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush duet in a new guise, partly due to the use of cello and percussion, featuring Williams’ daughter Hannah Ruick in the role of La Bush. Pretty big footsteps to follow, her voice is a bit thin, but she doesn’t do badly. On the other hand, Williams lacks PG’s weathered voice. Remakes of classics, always tricky.

The Dream is not a bad song, but I can’t help feeling that it has more potential than the current version shows. Perhaps a little too much “family business”: Williams’ brother William T plays drums, daughter Ray sings and brother-in-law Jay Gruska rounds off the family gathering. Even Lenny Castro’s eminent percussion work cannot compete with that. “Ding dong the dream is dead”. Fortunately, Remember Her is a lot stronger, perhaps due to the collaboration with Steve Lukather. A slow song with a lovely groove and Luke’s characteristic solo halfway, some high degree of Toto quality. The “Her” in this song is astronomer Cecilia Payne, the discoverer of the matter that stars are made of, just so you know.

Solitary piano notes and Williams’ voice during the intro of the bluesy No Lessons. Please listen to that fragile trumpet and the orchestration with strings and synths. Williams as “crooner”, apparently he is capable off that too. Interesting lyrics as well: “There are no damn lessons, and this still ain’t one of ‘em”. Mistress Winter’s Jump has Celtic influences topped with American orchestration, largely thanks/due to co-composer/arranger Steven Overton.

Beatles song If I Fell is a bit of an odd man out, ultra-short at two-and-a-half minutes, by far the shortest song on the album. Steve Lukather takes up the John Lennon role. No idea what the strange sound bytes at the end are about. Closing track World Broken is surely one of the best tracks on the album. An exciting piece with plenty of space between the notes quickly turns into a rocking song with lush instrumentation. Veteran Lenny Castro’s percussion (also present on Toto’s debut album in 1976) is prominently present on this almost hypnotic hymn.

Williams has released an eclectic album with Denizen Tenant in which he deviates from the familiar Toto idiom. The album delivers a string of good songs: Never Saw You Coming, Liberty Man, Remember Her and especially World Broken stand up to scrutiny. Production is as always pitch perfect, just couldn’t be any other way with so many talented musicians and craftsmen on board. From a compositional point of view, everything is rather well put together, I have to highlight the vocal harmonies. But with such a star-studded line-up, I actually expected a little more from this man, currently one of the last of the Mohicans in the Toto camp, together with buddy Steve Lukather.

TRACK LISTING
01. Never Saw You Coming (5:19)
02. Liberty Man (4:28)
03. Denizen Tenant (3:25)
04. Wilma Fingadoux (3:43)
05. Black Dahlia (4:34)
06. Don’t Give Up (5:51)
07. The Dream (3:42)
08. Remember Her (4:44)
09. No Lessons (3:48)
10. Mistress Winter’s Jump (3:31)
11. If I Fell (2:32)
12. World Broken (4:41)

Total Time – 50:08

MUSICIANS
Joseph Williams – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Jeff Babko – Keyboards
David Paich – Keyboards
Oscar Bugarin – Piano, Synthesizers, Drums, Bass Programming
Simon Phillips – Drums
Lenny Castro – Percussion
Dylan Ronan – Drums, Bass & Synth Programming
Nathan East – Bass
Hannah Ruick – Vocals
Jay Gruska – Electric Piano, Synths
Leland Sklar – Bass
Barbara Gruska – Drums, Percussion
Steve Tavaglione – EWI Muted Trumpet
Mike Landau – Guitars
Weston Wilson – Vocals
Steve Lukather – Guitars, Vocals
Ray Williams – Vocals
Steve Overton – Bass, Guitars
Mark T. Williams – Drums

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Mascot
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 26th February 2021

DISCOGRAPHY
– Denizen Tenant (2021)
– Williams/Friestedt (2011)
– This Fall (2008)
– Smiles and Tears (2007)
– Two of Us (2006)
– Vertigo 2 (2006)
– Vertigo (2003)
– Early Years (1999)
– 3 (1997)
– I Am Alive (1996)
– Joseph Williams (1982) [re-released 2002]

LINKS
Joseph Williams – Website

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