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Dar Williams - Many Great Companions

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 13 / 11 / 2010

Dar Williams - Many Great Companions
Label: Proper Records
Format: CD


First-rate double CD compilation from inventive and under-rated New England-based folk/pop artist, Dar Williams

17 years into a relatively prolific recording career, New England folk singer Dar Williams has reached that point when a best-of compilation stops seeming like a cash in, and starts instead to seem like a necessity, lest any prospective newcomers to her fanbase run away from the Williams, D section of their local record store screaming in blind panic at the impossible choices they were being asked to make. But, this collection (not quite enough hits to warrant the ‘Greatest Hits’ tag, alas) has been packaged in a way that should draw in Williams’ longstanding fans as well. As well as a twenty-track survey of her career, there are 12 acoustic reworkings of older material (6 songs appear on both disks). The first disc is titled ’Songs Revisited with a Guitar and a Few Friends’and does exactly what it says on the tin. The arrangements are very simple, with the ‘few friends’ offering only background assistance. Having spent much of her career attempting to transcend her folkie routes with intricate, pop-influenced studio arrangements, this set shows why the folkie label has survived her studio experimentation. The progression over the course of Williams’ seven studio albums have been subtle, so this non-chronological set hangs together easily. Broadly speaking, her career began with her adopting a traditional folkie sound, before she sought fast paced pop-rock, eventually settling into pop-folk, with subtle electronic flourishes. At the time of her 1997 album, ‘End of the Summer’, Williams stood accused of throwing out her folk roots, with her eyes clearly on the airplay and record sales of her better known contemporaries Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morrisette. And yet, placed in the wider context of her career, these songs don‘t sound like the missteps they might have seemed at the time. ‘Are You Out There?’, especially, stands as one of her most biting compositions. And yet, by 2003’s ‘The Beauty of the Rain’, she seemed more comfortable with her place in the music scene, with the backing understated and the melodies slow burning. ‘The One Who Knows’, which features on both disCs, represents a career highlight. When she branched out her sound again, for 2005’s ‘My Better Self', she did it with a better understanding of what she wanted to achieve. The gentle jangle of ‘Teen For God’ focuses attention on an affectionate lyric, a perfect example of Williams’ knack of alighting upon unusual subject matter (in this case, an adolescent devotion to the Christian faith) The compilation is also a reminder that the folk songs that made her name are worth remembering. Her debut album, ‘The Honesty Room’, which was initially self released, contributes some of the strongest material here. ‘The Babysitter’s Here’, another that appears twice, simultaneously catching early childhood and oncoming adulthood, is one of her cleverest compositions. Although her vocals are noticeably more expressive on the re-recording, there is a quirky charm to the 1993 original that shows why a hardcore of Dar Williams prefer her early songs to her bigger budget more recent work. All in all, this compilation demonstrates Dar Williams as a consistently imaginative songwriter, who transcends the radio-friendly soft pop/folk sound to make original and provocative songs. This is likely to make you want the complete albums.

Track Listing:-
1 Calling The Moon
2 If I Wrote You
3 Spring Street
4 I'll Miss You Till I Meet You
5 The Christians And The Pagans
6 What Do You Hear In These Sounds
7 The One Who Knows
8 The Babysitter's Here
9 As Cool As I Am
10 You Rise And Meet The Day
11 Iowa
12 When I Was A Boy
13 It's Alright
14 Are You Out There
15 February
16 Mercy Of The Fallen
17 The Easy Way
18 Teen For God
19 After All
20 Book Of Love
21 The Beauty Of The Rain
22 Better Things
23 The Ocean
24 Closer To Me
25 Empire
26 End Of The Summer

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