Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Victoria Williams Covers:
Harry Nilsson, Greg Brown, and more




Victoria Williams is a songwriter's songwriter's songwriter, a darling of the in-crowd: married to underground folkstar Peter Case when she released her first album in the mid-eighties, she has spent the bulk of her married life with Mark Olsen of the Jayhawks, with whom she cofounded the Creekdippers (aka several other names that have the word "creekdipper" in them). The turn-out for Sweet Relief, a benefit concert/recording made shortly after she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1993, included acts from Pearl Jam and Soul Asylum to alt/indie luminaries Lou Reed, Michael Penn, Evan Dando, and Lucinda Williams.

But let us not think that Williams is worth celebrating merely because of who she knows. Her lyrical scope is voracious, if the lyrics themselves endearingly dorky; she is just as able writing a cute song about shoes or weeds as she is at telling stories of the smalltown and Southern. Her light voice has a quiver and a rasp that lends itself especially well to the loose stringed rhythms and the playful instrumental and back-vocal layers she favors in her performance; it floats beautifully over even the strongest production, like a hymn on a broken guitar.

And she's a sonic folk experimentalist of the first degree. In a world populated by Devendra Banhart and Marilyn Manson, Rolling Stone calls her weird, and they mean it as a compliment; it's no wonder she's so well respected by insiders well known for pushing the envelope of the sparse, the soulful, and the grungy.

Though Williams' mass popularity has never truly caught up with her famous fan-base, it's certainly not for lack of determination. Fourteen years post-diagnosis she's still performing -- mostly with the California-based alt-grass jam band The Thriftstore Allstars, though according to her fan site, she's been on the road with indie darling M. Ward enough to be considering a co-release.

And she still turns up on the occasional folk tribute. Today, typically odd-choice cuts off of a Harry Nilsson tribute and a Greg Brown tribute, each of which shows, in its own weirdly produced way, the instincts of a pro pushing the envelope, setting surrealist stages for the interpretive power of that wavery, strangely beautiful voice:

  • Victoria Williams, The Puppy Song (orig. Nilsson)
  • Victoria Williams, Early (orig. Brown)


Victoria William's most recent projects have not yet produced much beyond buzz and bootlegs, but you can still hear her voice in recent releases by hubby Mark Olsen, including 2007's Salvation Blues, over at Olsen's Myspace page. I also highly recommend her older work with and without the Creekdippers, and her 2002 collection of old-time covers Victoria Williams Sings Some Ol' Songs, all available via the Creekdipper website store. You know, just to tide you over while you wait for that M. Ward / Victoria Williams release to materialize.


Today's bonus coversongs:

  • The Creekdippers explore Gram Parsons' In My Hour Of Darkness
  • Michael Penn does justice to Williams' Weeds (live at Sweet Relief)
  • M. Ward covers Bowie classic Let's Dance (live on KCRW)


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