STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
“Emerald” is the latest album release from veteran recording artist Dar Williams. Offering a collection of some of Williams’ finest work, the album exemplifies the creative depth and personal journey of an ever-evolving artist.
Including the talents of friends and fellow musicians Jill Sobule, Richard Thompson, Jim Lauderdale, the Milk Carton Kids, the Hooters, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Suzzy Roche and Trevor Gordon Hall, “Emerald” is symbolic of the special connections that Williams has made in her career.
“The album has a lot to do with all the different kinds of relationships I have in my life and that’s defined by the themes,” said Williams from her home in upstate New York. “It is very much defined by travelling because of all the different places that I visited. We recorded in 7 studios with different producers and a lot of different friends.”
“Every song had an artist that I either wrote the song with or I heard in my head as I was writing,” said Williams. “In this case, I think every artist that I asked said ‘yes’ because they’re friends and as long as they could work out the schedule.”
“There are some magical things that happened like when you introduced me to Trevor Gordon Hall,” said Williams. “I was already thinking there was a song for which I wanted a combination of something ethereal but also something you could tell was created by a human — not just ambient music and not created electronically. So, that worked out really well.”
“I was nervous that it was going to sound disjointed,” Williams said. “One by one, the different friends and producers said, ‘Every song on every album, whether it has one producer or seven, has a different mood and a different part of your brain.’ I was concerned that it was going to be really different geographies. You can put a lot of different patches together and still have one something of a whole. I was really pleased with how everything turned out.”
My favorite selections on the album include “Something To Get Through,” “Empty Plane,” “Slippery Slope,” “Here Tonight,” “Mad River” and “Emerald.”
For a drama student that majored in theater and religion at Wesleyan University, Williams never imagined that she would evolve into a successful pop folk artist, author, poet, playwright and lecturer.
Relocating from Chappaqua, N.Y. to the fertile Boston, Massachusetts music scene in 1990 was a pivotal move for the young artist.
“I went to Boston to be a playwright, but the theater scene was not as strong as the music scene,” recalled Williams. “So, I went where the scene was. Ultimately, it’s about people that spark your imagination and inspire you. I’ve always been a part of a scene and the scene pushes me and pulls me towards new things.”
While working the coffeehouse circuit in Boston, Williams caught the ear of music legend Joan Baez. Baez took Williams on the road and recorded several of Williams’ songs, igniting her career. Williams recorded a duet with Baez on “Ring Them Bells.
Routinely exhibiting a passion for the written word, Williams brings to life her unique observations of relationships, gender issues, religion, geography, adolescence, loss and humor.
“I love storytelling, and I love making connections,” says Williams. “Whether my connections are from my psyche to the landscape or understanding connections between people, that’s my favorite thing. Having an incredible love of the story, any kind of story, is my favorite distraction.”
Armed with a pair of EP’s (“I Have No History” (1990) and “All My Heroes Are Dead” (1991)) to her credit, Williams recorded her first full-length album debut, “The Honesty Room” (1995), on her independent label Burning Field Music. A 1995 re-release of the album on the Razor and Tie record label earned Williams notoriety as one of the best selling independent folk albums of the year. Follow-up album releases, “Mortal City” (1996) and “End of The Summer” (1997), fueled the momentum of this thriving artist.
Today, with more than two-dozen studio, live, tribute and compilation albums to her credit, Williams is regarded as a darling of the singer songwriter pop folk scene. She has been called upon to work with contemporaries Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Griffin, Ani Di Franco, The Nields, Shawn Colvin, Girlyman and Catie Curtis.
In spite of her success, she is a reluctant realist when it comes to recognizing the uncertainty that envelops musicians.
“I consider this to be an end game,” said Williams. “The music business has really collapsed, and, in some ways, I’m really happy that people are acknowledging that the record business has collapsed and that there are consequences to that. I thought it was me getting pessimistic, which is really weird. I’m the ultimate optimist.”
“What I’m most interested in is how artists are starting to gather together, and it’s just in the beginning phases,” she said. “It’s not Apple vs. Spotify vs. Pandora. It’s how artists are going to collectively find their voice, especially with things being so wide open right now. We have each other, and that has given a lot of unexpected structure to my career. So, I’m real lucky. Even now, with a lot of uncertainty, I feel pretty sure footed about the thing that I’m a part of — whatever that thing is.”
An artist whose energy extends beyond the recording studio and the stage, Williams continues to teach at Wesleyan University, where she conducts songwriting seminars. She is currently authoring her next book, “What I Found in a Thousand Towns.”
“It’s about how I’ve seen people building up the identities and the communication networks of a town in such a way that has made them extremely resilient and even prosperous,” said Williams. “I’ll leave a town and feel like little roots have sprung out of my feet. I feel a little bit rooted in every town because of the connections that audience makes for me. It’s a very reciprocal thing.”
“I love museums. I love theater. I love music, and I love the phenomenon of how our country participates in the arts,” said Williams. “Whether it’s public, private or non-profit, I’m just very interested in how we put things together to identify ourselves as a culture as well as an economy, government or a military. So, I feel like I’m an ambassador of something great.”
IF YOU GO
What: Dar Williams, with special guest Jill Sobule.
Where: World Café Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
When: Concert is at 8 p.m. Friday, June 26.
Info.: Tickets are available by calling (215) 222-1400 or online at www.worldcafelive.com. To stay up to date with Dar Williams, visit www.darwilliams.com.