Initially I wasn’t sure if I should include Dar Williams in the set of artists I’m examing for the musical genome project. I own most but not all of her albums, and I know only a couple of them by heart. She has released her share of generic Lilith Fair soft rock snoozers.
But she has also written and recorded some of the best songs I’ve ever heard. ‘When I Was a Boy,’ for example, is a song I would list among my very favorites, not just for its musical and lyrical qualities but because it speaks to me on a deep emotional level. She can do that, and has, more than a few times.
My latest Random Weekend selection is the opening track of Dar Williams’ 2000 album The Green World.
As a follow-up to the sublime Mortal City and End of the Summer, The Green World falls a bit short but does contain a few great tracks. The best of them is ‘After All,’ one of my favorite songs.
Starting my second week of women covering songs originally performed by men is Dar Williams with her version of Fountains of Wayne’s ‘Troubled Times.’
Unlike most of the covers I’ve featured so far, this one is slavishly faithful to its source material. Williams recorded this song not because she felt she could bring some new twist to it but simply because she loves it. She’s a fan.
Fountains of Wayne’s original appeared on their 1999 album Utopia Parkway, an excellent collection worth picking up if you don’t own it already.
One of the things I like about Dar Williams is that she’s a very good lyricist whose lyrics are almost always easily dissected. That’s in contrast to, say, Elvis Costello, who is also a fine lyricist but often writes whole songs that leave me baffled.
Now sure, I think there is something to be said for poetic imagery that can be interpreted a dozen different ways by a dozen different people, but sometimes I just want a song that speaks to me in words I understand about themes I can appreciate.
On that front, Williams delivers in spades.
Of all the artists in my music collection, Dar Williams is one of the few whose songs I would just as soon read in a book as listen to on record. That’s not a criticism of her voice or melodic gifts — she’s pretty great on that front as well — but a testament to the power of her poetry.
Because Williams is a poet, a label I wouldn’t assign to most songwriters. Songs are generally meant to be listened to, not read, and laying them out on paper (or a computer screen) makes that very obvious. And I don’t mean that as a criticism to most songwriters… I’m guessing they fully appreciate the difference between song lyrics and poetry.