Thursday, March 7, 2013

Holly Don't Go Lightly

Happy - Holly Williams (mp3)

Lori McKenna’s Twitter feed has become a touchstone. I’ve purchased four albums in the last six months after having stumbled on them because Lori’s gushing about them on a Tweet. I’m grateful as hell Lori Tweetroduced me to Holly Williams, and I’m grateful we met now, in 2013.

Holly Williams’ new album, The Highway, is everything missing from the heart of most modern country music. That’s not to say The Highway is pure country, because it probably falls as closely to the folk/singer-songwriter genres as it does classic country, but its soul is country. It’s about drinkin’. It’s about running away from what’s good for us and not having enough courage to run away from what’s bad. It’s wallowing in pain in the present and drowning under pain from the past. It’s loves lost and loser lovers. And that’s just in a song called “Happy.”

The album opens with “Drinkin’,” a song for which she made a video. It’s got all the stuff of Old School Country: a weeping fiddle, soft hand claps, a steel guitar, and the eternal topics of alcohol and infidelity. I reckon if you listen to this one and don’t find yourself intrigued, there’s not much use going any further. And don’t feel bad. This music ain’t for everyone.

Not that “Drinkin’” is the best song on the album. And it sure as hell ain't the only song with drinkin' in it. With each successive listen to the whole album, another song springs up higher on my chart, and most of 'em include some drinkin'. Most of 'em sound mighty nice while you're drinkin', too.

Simple arrangements. The occasional harmonizing from a haunted male voice who might or might not be Jackson Browne, Jakob Dylan or Dierks Bentley, each of whom pitch in on a song. Only on a couple of songs, most specifically the uptempo "Railroads," do the instruments combine to such a level that you can’t distinctly and swiftly identify all of them.

The Highway is Ms. Williams’ third album, but it’s her first as an independent woman. It’s her first on her own terms, but it carries the confidence and strength of someone whose mantra during the recording process seems to have been, “This ain’t my first rodeo.” The product of this confident, mature independence is a knee-bucklingly potent collection.

Maybe some would find “Let You Go” a bit too repetitive or “‘Til It Runs Dry” a bit too formulaic. “Waiting on June” is a strong close, but some might wish didn’t stretch almost seven minutes. But damn if it doesn't feel like this is picking nits from a supermodel's coiffure.

We’ve all been trapped into a discussion about “desert island” music lists. I’m not sure Holly Williams’ album suits a desert island and the tropical climate. However, were I snowed into a three-room cabin in the Appalachian mountains with no power and only a warm fire and the comfort of some battery-powered music device, The Highway would definitely make the “list. This is the album you want when you’ve got the time to think, hands around a warm coffee mug, feet propped up, the crackling of the wood and the warm-red light embracing you in a solitude that is comforting rather than lonely.

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