Monday, October 4, 2010

Greatest Hits In The College-Town Folk Singer Universe: Out There Live By Dar Williams

The Good: Lyrics, Voice (mostly), Diversity, Introduction tracks
The Bad: Occasional singing, Adds little to Williams' overall repertoire
The Basics: Very good live album that does what a live album ought to; prove the artist can sing, showcase some of their best works, and make you yearn for more!

Ever heard of the multiverse? It's the idea that there are thousands of universes occupying the same space, but with different variables. It's the idea Sliders was based on. Well, somewhere, there's a universe where Britney Spears is an unknown playing in coffee houses and Dar Williams sells out amphitheaters nightly.

Here in our universe, odds are the name Dar Williams isn't one you'd know. And why should you? Out There Live was only her fifth full album. That's more than the pop princesses dominating the air waves now. It's a shame Dar Williams hasn't had the exposure the lesser talents have gotten.

Out There Live is a collection of live versions of songs from her first four albums. And each of them is better written than anything, say, Jessica Simpson has put out. This has a lot to do with the fact that Dar Williams is an amazing poet and writer. The most positive, unrelenting strength of Out There Live is the lyrics. More than that, having now heard all of her other albums (see my glowing review of The Honesty Room by clicking here), this album is an excellent collection showcasing the diversity of Dar's musical experience. Simply put, all of the songs don't sound the same. In fact, none of them sound the same. That's impressive considering on sixteen musical tracks (the three other tracks are conversation), all done live with the same musical instruments, that they all come out sounding, well, different.

Having seen Dar Williams live twice (thank you Valentine's Day several years ago and a summer visit nearby about two years past), the conversational tracks (Intro tracks) were a reminiscent treat for me. Basically, Dar introduces three of her songs on the album with her motivations and thoughts behind them. Even without the visual impact of Dar, the wit and energy is well captured through the intros.

The only weaknesses I could consider was in one of my favorite songs from The Honesty Room; Dar's performance of "When I Was a Boy" sounds sleepy, tired, as if she's sick of singing it. There are moments in "The Babysitter's Here" (Also from her debut album) where she sounds whispy and bored as well. It's a shame, because they're good songs and the rest of the album has such vibrancy! Also, having been spoiled by the amazing live album Wonderlust by Heather Nova, it saddened me that lyrically there was nothing new. Heather tweaks her songs on her live albums and, to the best of my knowledge, Dar is following her original, brilliant lyrics here.

Still, there are moments in the album that she interacts with her live audience and that's a treat. Vastly superior to Oasis' Familiar to Millions live excursion, Out There Live is a wonderful sampler of Dar's range and talent. If you'd never heard of Dar Williams before reading this review, I strongly recommend this album. It showcases, the depths of her soulful mourning ("February"), the heights of her humor ("I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono"), and social conscious ("The Christians and the Pagans") with upbeat music ("As Cool As I Am") and soulful ballads ("End of the Summer"). You'll want more Dar Williams after hearing this one. She's that good.

The only real weak link (sadly) is the well-lyricked "When I Was a Boy." "February" still gets a tear in my eye, so I'd have to vote that the strongest track.

For other strong female artists, please check out my reviews of:
The First Ten Years - Joan Baez
One Cell In The Sea - A Fine Frenzy
Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall & John Oates - The Bird And The Bee


For other music reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

© 2010, 2007, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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