Just yesterday I was discussing the tough road female artists have had in Round One of Montauk Madness, thanks to the luck of the draw in the matchups. Here’s another example, where two very talented women have to face off against each other (the first such battle, unless you count Lucinda Williams taking on the Shirley Manson-led Garbage).
Dar Williams is a relatively obscure artist who has quietly released almost a dozen albums of literate folk pop. She is a master lyricist and knows her way around a melody, and she’s responsible for one of my very favorite songs, ‘When I Was a Boy.’
Enjoy ‘The Blessings,’ another great songs from Dar Williams’ greatest album, 1996’s Mortal City.
That record falls into the rare genre of albums that are close to perfect but for one glaring, horrible misstep. In this case, it’s the title track, a 7-plus minute half-spoken, half-sung short story about a couple that meets during a power failure.
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.
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.
I was first introduced to the music of Dar Williams by a high school friend with whom I’ve stayed in touch via email. She and I exchange book, movie and music finds and I can thank her for exposing me to not just Williams but Aimee Mann and Barenaked Ladies as well (and probably several others I’m forgetting).
The song she gave me was ‘The Christians and the Pagans,’ an amusing short story of a song about an eventful holiday family gathering between people of different faiths. It’s a charming and funny song with a sweet message and a memorable melody and it was enough to convince me to pick up her latest album, Mortal City.