It took me a while to get into Dar Williams. The way she plays with the strong break between her bold lower tones and her breathy upper register is an acquired taste. Her songwriting is generally wry and poignant, but it takes more than one skim-the-surface listen to appreciate its complexity. She tends towards strong, heavy production, which attracts a younger alt-folk crowd, but can overwhelm her well-crafted, literate lyrics.
But at her best, Dar is an incredible artist. Her songwriting and her stage presence are so raw and fragile, it's like what it must have been like to see Joni Mitchell during her Blue period. She picks distinctive, powerful voices for harmony, weaves a rich, complex tapestry to tell her strum and story. Her work is the soundtrack of my soul. Her music is listenable, mature, and strong, and it bears repeating.
Dar is flat-out incredible live. I've seen her half a dozen times, maybe, and she just radiates good cheer and a cute, puppy-dog-awkward stage discomfort that makes you want to root for her. When she plays Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, she always asks the field to light up their cellphones and lighters all-at-once when she does "Iowa", and there's that created moment where she's just awestruck and gasping, and you cry there in the dark, for the beauty of it all.
I was hoping to find a bootlegged copy of Dar covering the Cat Stevens song Peace Train this summer on stage at FRFF with the Slambovian Circus of Dreams. Alas, we'll just have to go on without it. Happily, there's plenty of coverlove to put forth, from the sweet, poignant Pierce Pettis cover Family to the urban popfolk ride of the Kinks' Better Things -- both of which Dar makes so much her own I didn't realize they were covers when I first heard them. Plus great covers of Springsteen, The Beatles, The Band, Nick Lowe, Pink Floyd, and some bonus songs, as always: supergroup Cry, Cry, Cry, a cover of a Dar song by the very first artist we ever featured here on Cover Lay Down, and another cover of that Kinks song. And don't forget to head back to last month's archives to pick up Dar's folkrockin' cover of David Bowie's Starman after you're finished here.
- Dar Williams, Family (orig. Pierce Pettis)
- Dar Williams, All Men Are Liars (orig. Nick Lowe)
- Dar Williams, Better Things (orig. The Kinks)
- Dar Williams, You Won't See Me (orig. The Beatles)
- Dar Williams, Highway Patrolman (orig. Springsteen)
- Dar Williams, Whispering Pines (orig. The Band)
- Dar Williams w/ ani difranco, Comfortably Numb (orig. Pink Floyd)
Dar Williams has just come out with a new live DVD, which includes a cover of the Grateful Dead song Ripple. Her management usually frowns on pre-release, so buy Live at Bearsville, and the rest of her amazing catalog, and find out for yourself how intimate and powerful Dar Williams can be.
Today's bonus coversongs:
- Dar's live version of Better Things, for comparison's sake
- Fountains of Wayne covers Better Things, too
- Peter Mulvey covers Dar's Ocean
- Richard Shindell covers Dar's Calling the Moon
- Dar takes the lead from songwriter Richard Shindell on Cry, Cry, Cry's cover of Shindell's The Ballad of Mary Magdalen