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.
Last year, Dar Williams released her seventh full-length album, Promised Land, and this one I did buy when I found it on sale recently at a local record shop. I haven’t had a chance to give it more than a few listens just yet, so I can’t give a definitive verdict, but it’s good stuff.
On the whole, it’s poppier than her early material, using more drums than I’ve ever heard in a Dar Williams song. And that’s a good thing… my one complaint about Williams’ music is that sometimes it’s a bit too airy, too at risk of floating away on its own preciousness. These new songs feel a little more earthbound.
Now here’s the weird thing. Williams had released three straight albums that I really loved and had written at least a couple of songs I consider among my very favorites, and yet in 2003 when she released her next album, Beauty of the Rain, I didn’t get it. And two years later she released an album called My Better Self and I didn’t get that either.
That’s quite unlike me. I’m always looking for the next album by artists I enjoy. Maybe it was because I was suddenly sharing my house with a 1-year-old, though I don’t think I stopped buying music altogether.
In 2000, Dar Williams released her fourth full-length album, The Green Room, and again she didn’t disappoint. I don’t rank this album quite as high as the previous two but it’s a solid collection that steps up her game in terms of production.
The highlight of the album is a song I’ve already featured on the blog, a track called ‘After All.’ It’s a real beauty about surviving depression and, like ‘When I Was a Boy,’ it has generated a lot of attention here through the YouTube clip I I posted. I guess Williams is just obscure enough and just sought out enough that a blog like this can hit the radar of her more fervent fans without getting lost in a sea of other coverage.
Mortal City was Williams’ second full-length album. For some reason I don’t own her debut, The Honesty Room, even though it contains one of my favorite songs ever, ‘When I Was a Boy.’
I featured that song on the blog just over a year ago and it is far and away the post here that has received the most continued attention. That’s because I posted the song on YouTube with a link back to Meet Me In Montauk, and the YouTube clip has received more than 15,500 views to date. Now that’s not much compared to that wedding dance clip or the keyboard cat, but it’s a pretty big number to me.