When my girlfriend, a confirmed musical softy and lover of mush, calls singer/songwriter Dar Williams “good, but really girly at times,” that’s really saying something. And after listening to Williams’ latest release, The Beauty of the Rain, with its Sarah-McLachlan-without-the-edge sound (this is more than a little bit of joke), I’d have to agree with her.
Hailing from Chappaqua, New York, Williams began writing songs at age 11, but it was not until her sophomore year of college that she began to perform publicly. She moved to Boston after graduating from Wesleyan, and– thanks to a renaissance-(wo)man involvement with the arts– quickly became stage manager for the Opera Company there.
After a generally unproductive time trying to become entrenched in Boston’s folk scene, Williams moved to Northhampton, Massachusetts, to be part of the relatively more relaxed folk music scene there.
The Beauty of the Rain is Williams’ seventh full-length album, and if first week sales are any measure of an album’s worth (they usually aren’t), it’s her best, hands down.
The album opens with the single “Mercy of the Fallen,” which wears its Sarah McLachlan influences on its sleeve. From the first bubbling organ notes, the song screams “Possession,” McLachlan’s premiere single, with its slow but steady build up of sound to slightly less than rocking full volume. Williams possesses a nice voice, though it’s not particularly striking, and she uses it well even as she seems to know its limitations.
Things really start getting (relatively) wild on track three, “I Saw A Bird Fly Away,” which has been playing on radios near you for the last couple of months. A mildly calypso background spices Williams’ folk up nicely, and background vocals on the choruses and harmonica– provided by the (now reportedly slim) John Popper of Blues Traveler– add the elements needed to move the song from merely good to hit single territory.
Track seven is another song on which added instruments pay dividends for Williams– “Closer to Me” features Bela Fleck on banjo. The tune is fine, with some nice lyrics, including the oh-so-sweet, “Am I the habit you’re too tired to break?”
But once the chorus starts, things get interesting. Though it sounds like a melodious gobbledy-gook of double tracked vocals (think Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire), it turns out to be something along the lines of a travel itinerary: “Down the river, down the road, Little Rock, Tokyo/Dusty trail Flagstaff, in a faded photograph.”
If you’re a fan of Dar Williams, you’re probably going to be at Starr Hill Thursday night no matter what I say. But if you haven’t heard the young songstress yet, and you enjoy the softer side of women’s folk music, plop down that cool $20 and prepare to get “girly.”
Dar Williams performs with Ben Taylor at Starr Hill, April 17. $20/$18 advance, 9pm.