by Rhetta Akamatsu
Billie Williams’ second album, Hell To Pay, shows that she is is a fantastic soul and blues singer, and like many of the best, she is tuned in to the world around her. So whether it’s political issues in “Hell To Pay” and “Ten Million Sisters” or a bad, bad breakup in “Damn,” she speaks her mind. But she and the fantastic bunch of musicians she has assembled can handle other emotions in marvelous musical style as well, never letting one emotion rule for too long.
Things start out with “Damn.” letting her ex know what she thinks with no messing around and no modest language. The next song continues the theme, in the slightly more restrained but no less emotional, piano-driven “Cold November.” Next is the much more conciliatory “Start All Over,” a soulful and rueful account of bad moves.
Next is the bouncy “You,” about a much brighter and better relationship. Then, Williams is back to angry, but this time on a more socio-political scale with “Hell To Pay,” which starts out quiet and builds to a righteous rant, In my opinion, this is the highlight of the album.
“Hour By Hour” then slows the tempo down again and returns to heartbreak in the pure blues of “Hour by Hour.” “Drink From My Cup” offers something else different with a roguish lilt and a honky-tonk piano and some flirty, sexy words. The rollicking organ will alert you to the 60’s sound of “Lost In The Wilderness,” which is a love song despite the Gospel sounding title. It is followed by another one, “My Everything,” but this one has a Stax feel to it.
The wistful “Take These Dreams” returns us to the sad breakup for a ballad this time. Then it’s back to social justice for the anthem, “Ten Million Sisters,” inspired by Williams’ experience of The Women’s March in Washington in 2017. It is, for me, another of the highlight tracks.
Overall, the album is about half dark and half light but whichever half you prefer, the 11 original tunes show that Billie Williams is an artist full of skill and passion. She is one to be aware of.