Every Northeast songwriter there has ever been is compelled to write about the place they’re from. Geordies are forever roaming, running, going or coming, home. For sure, the music of the USA inspires them to steam up the Mississippi, but they all end up singing about sailing down the Tyne. Judging by his debut solo album, Ghost, Derek Yates Williamson is no different.
From the opening to the closing song, Williamson’s lyrics are situated firmly in the emotional and familial landscape of his hometown of Newcastle Upon Tyne. Musically he might end up drunk in a Mexican bar, tempted by a soul mistress or seeking salvation on the road; but thankfully, he always comes home to his wife and family.
The creative tension between the geographies of the USA and the North East of England is, for me, the album’s intriguing hook. The music is all-out Americana, but the lyrics are born in the UK. In Williamson’s own words the songs draw on themes of “home, both in a physical sense and in an emotional sense…coming to terms with where I’ve come from, and how I have changed, all anchored in the values, work ethic, honesty and everything that I grew up with.”
This is not a one sitting thing but a collection of country, soul, funk, tex-mex and reggae that pays the more you play. At the core of the album is a trilogy of songs paying homage to his hometown: The Band influenced country rocker Inspiration, the slow gospel of Take Me Home – complete with an arrangement reminiscent of Bob Dylan on New Morning – and the poetic observation of City in the Mist.
Springled between are songs about growing from the limitless potential of childhood into the limit full constraints of adulthood (Photograph), domestic challenges to be present (Ghost), and fidelity (Walk away from the Feeling).
The musical influences are many. Willamson cites Sam Cooke, Jackson Browne, Dawes, Otis Redding, James Taylor, Ry Cooder, Foy Vance and Jason Isbell but there are also some British tones, such as Paul Young and Robert Palmer, tucked away in the inflexions of his voice. These influences, some heroic, form the muse for the final theme of the four remaining songs on the album – the music itself! The funky driving James Brown bass of Modern Messiah, the Lynyrd Skynyrd-goes-reggae, Three Shots Too Many – about the murder of Sam Cooke – the outlaw ballad Otis Cooper and George (they are outlaws, but surely they play in a band) and the Tex-Mex Bar sound of Morrow Bay complete the album by drawing from an all-encompassing, if it sounds like a good song, regardless of the genre, we-will-play-it attitude.
To celebrate the pure joy of music, Williamson has pulled together an outstanding band that delights in expertly accompanying bang-on-bass and drums with everything from guitar solos and soaring fiddle, to party-time accordion and haunting hammond organ, all backed by velveteen gospel vocals.
Try it, taste it, take it home here. It might sound like Chicago or Cincinnati, but it’s really Sweet Home South Shields.