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Robert Williams and the Strays
Wednesday 26 February 7.00pm
Robert Williams’ music is the crossroads of grace and truth. He knows where the wild things are and where the quiet heart hides. A singer/songwriter since he was 19, Robert, whose influences include Woody Guthrie and Levon Helm, echoes with a wise man’s rhythms and a poet’s glee. Born in Oklahoma, where John Steinbeck immortalized the everyman’s battle against his fate, Robert is a wanderer, picking up songs along a road that stretches through the roadhouses of Kansas City and Austin to the tempting haunts of Berlin.
Since the 1970s, his style has been his own, a masterful blend of folk, blues, rock and a melodic twist of European cabaret. He played through the Cold War in West Berlin clubs such as ‘Go-In’ and ‘Folkpub.’ He became a mercurial spark in the scene, a voice in the mosaic of what once was and what was taking its place. Berlin popular music critic Peter Müller considers Robert and long-time collaborator Wayne Grajeda to be engrained in the city’s musical history, praising their musicianship, song writing and originality.
Robert’s path eventually led to Egypt where he taught linguistics at the American University of Cairo. From a distance, and in the aftermath of 9/11, Robert had provocative things to say about American exceptionalism and what tragedy had done to his native land. His first solo album, State Secrets (2004), was produced in Nashville by Bonnie Raitt Band guitarist George Marinelli Jr. In 2010, the Oklahoma Gazette named State Secrets as one of the ten most important albums of the previous decade by an Oklahoma artist:
“Williams was once on a path to be a lifetime troubadour. Then he wised up. While the Oklahoma City native traded the nightlife for a professional role in Egypt, he remains one of the best songwriters to ever come out of the metro. With just two songs, ‘The Quiet American’ and ‘How Long (Till the End of the World)’, he explains the past decade better than anyone.”
Robert’s guitar and mandolin play soulful and brash. But so much of his songs are about the words. How they fit, sound, rub together; how they whirl and dance. Robert’s lyrics can take you places and bring you back with a deeper wisdom. They are small worlds of longing, wonder and intimate detail.
The Strays are a Perth-based band, bringing an eclectic mix of all-original songs with a West Australian flavour, written and performed by a diverse group of veteran musicians. Musical styles range from laid-back beach (Salt) through reggae (Creatures of the Sea) to full-on rock anthems (Kiss the Sun), and – although the lyrics cover a lot of ground – there is a central optimism to the music that reflects their West Australian lifestyle.
The Strays are Martin Gregory (vocals), Mark Ballesteros (bass, vocals) Leonie Squire (keyboards, vocals), Fred Wehr (guitar, vocals) and Allan Wilkerson (drums).
In a previous life Fred lived and worked in Cairo where he and Robert Williams became friends and played music together. Bob and Fred are currently working on producing Bob’s fourth album here in Perth.