Dar Williams fashions small opuses out of the usual coffee shop songwriter act, elevating tidy melodies and pleasant acoustic guitars into powerful melancholic pop. Williams is adept at bending adult contemporary sounds and melancholic narratives into her enjoyably poetic (at times abstractly so) songwriting. With some spindly guitar riffage (courtesy of power-pop mainstay Marshall Crenshaw), Williams’ latest, Promised Land, starts off with a bang. “It’s Alright” blends fuzzy pop with neatly entrenched song-poet lyrics. Williams’ takes a tried and true and catchy as hell chorus mantra and enfolds it within her strange, grinning couplets: “Anxious smiles encased whalebone / Spines of steel from head to tailbone.” The overall effect plays like a Dada sitcom credit sequence, in it’s oddly enjoyable roundabout. “Buzzer” is a superb, downward spiral folk-rock narrative about cheap eats and the endlessly perturbed with Williams’ winding harmonies climactically strengthening the song’s nightmare game show pretense.
A cover of Stephen Trask’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch cut, “Midnight Radio” allows Williams’ to cut back on the verbiage and really dig into a sad, beatific melody with an aptly bare guitar-and-keys orchestration that nicely mirrors the lonely night listening that it celebrates. While a few tracks tend to fade into the background (“Summerday,” Fountains of Wayne cover “Troubled Times”), Williams and her band are never less than pristine in their delivery and studio skills. But it’s tracks like “Go To The Woods,” where Williams allows herself to unload her folksy whisper and edge toward black water rock stomp that she truly shines.
Favorite Track: “Go To The Woods”
Reviewer Bio - Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles with a girl and a designer dog. He is in a band by himself, has a myspace account at www.myspace.com/wastedpotentialproduction and a production company at (www.wastedpotentialproductions.com) for freelance film, video and journalism work.