People speak of a "natural beauty" in certain women... the kind who just rolls out of bed and looks great. Dar Williams has this quality in her voice. From her album The Beauty of the Rain, one gets the impression she could just roll out of bed, pick up a guitar, and start singing with the same appeal that takes others a lifetime to achieve. But a nice voice will only get you so far, and Williams exhibits a wide range of style and depth on the album, each song representing a journey from start to end. Good songwriting should survive the "strip-down test:" take away everything besides the vocals and an acoustic guitar and if it still touches you sans accoutrements, it's a good song. Most of the compositions on Beauty have this quality to them--behind everything else, you can hear Dar and her guitar strumming away. The liner notes go beyond the lyrics, giving a "Began" and "Finished" statistic for each tune, so you know, for example, that the title track was started in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village and completed up in Fairbanks, Alaska. It adds a wonderful dimension of blood and sweat to the heart of each song.

While a couple of songs, like that title track, are indeed little more than Dar and her guitar, more often she flushes out her sound with a nice cast of characters. These include John Popper with an absolutely Blues Traveler-esque run on "I Saw a Bird Fly Away," as well as John Medeski, Bela Fleck, Stefan Lessard, Allison Krauss, and Michael Kang on a range of others. The album starts out strongly and keeps things interesting throughout, although there are some serious lulls toward the end, with some tracks (e.g. "Whispering Pines") having the appeal of a musical version of a "chick flick." Still, The Beauty of the Rain has stood the test of repeated listens and is a perfect choice for a rainy afternoon on the couch with your sweetheart.

Aaron Stein
JamBase | New York
Go See Live Music!


[Published on: 8/11/04]

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