Dar Williams - Many Great Companions
When Dar Williams first emerged in the early 90s, she attracted attention for ticking most of the required boxes: she could play a bit, sing a bit and there were early indications she could manage a chord progression and had a pleasingly wry way with words. I have to be honest, since I first saw her on - and this is telling - 'The Chart Show' the best part of twenty years ago, I've not really given her much thought. That might be due to my gradual abandoning of earnest singer-songwriter types in favour of noiseniks who get to the point oh so much quicker without having to strap on a capo and give me a meandering introduction; or it might just be because Dar Williams has done little to batter down my prejudices where the likes of Kathleen Edwards, Tift Merritt and Catherine Feeny have glued me to their steely cowgirl blues. She's clearly done okay without my patronage as this double best-of proves. Disc two assembles album recordings and it's a sprawl of tasteful (but far from fiery) folk pop; disappointing, as I'd been led to expect a bit more spunk. Disc one, where she assembles a notable campfire group (including the inimitable Gary Louris from The Jayhawks and Mary Chapin Carpenter) to rework her repertoire, goes deeper. 'Spring Street', stripped of slick production, moves and lifts while 'The Babysitter's Here' could bring a man to tears. I said "could" - not me, obviously. The voice having been through a bit, clearly, has become a thing of serious, husky beauty, deeper and grainier with age. The lyrical concerns, touching as they do on seldom seen issues like depression and urban alienation, rather than just, you know, heartbreak and war, suggest she'd make a riveting novelist. Observationally, she's dead-on and you can see how well she might do that whole small-town-lives-dissected thing over 300 pages rather than the constraints of an album's forty minutes. Now that I'd be up for but this collection, only intermittently gripping, is recommended with reservations.