Monday, October 18, 2010

"When Did Sex Get So Mean? When Did Crime Get So Clean?" The Green World Rocks!

The Good: Great music, lyrics, vocals, Replays surprisingly well for an album so short.
The Bad: Short, Finding the limited edition version is a bear!
The Basics: Dar Williams reaches perfection with The Green World, an album available in standard or limited edition versions which is perfect either way!

Back in college, a friend of mine introduced me to the works of Dar Williams and few years later, my mother treated me to a Dar Williams concert on Valentine's Day. I spent that day scrambling to try to find a Dar Williams album locally, as Williams is famous for coming out after her concerts and autographing. I did not manage to find any and I went to the concert with enough money to buy one if they were selling one there. They were not. I found myself seated behind a young woman who was happily showing off her Limited Edition version of The Green World, The Green World being the latest album by Williams at that time. It took me over a decade before I saw the limited edition version again and it was my wife who found the exceptionally rare c.d. for me. After years of looking, she found my grail gift before my first birthday with us together. That's a pretty awesome partner!

But it is not just the anticipation for this disc that led me to declare it a perfect album. The Green World is an exceptional album of folk-rock music and one which is great in defiance of many things I do not usually like in contemporary music. Those who read my many music reviews will know that I am not a fan of "Christian rock," as it tends to be a very narrow interpretation of Christianity that is presented as musical propaganda. The Green World is not Christian Rock, though it has several overt references and allusions to Christianity and Dar Williams presents a few songs which are about prayer, god and even Jesus which are inspiring, inspired and/or just plain clever. The Green World is also about relationships and the most difficult choices we face in life, making for a compelling musical experience which is uncommon.

With eleven (or twelve, depending upon whether or not one is lucky enough to stumble upon the uber-rare Limited Edition version or not) songs clocking out at 42:38 (or 47:35), The Green World is only hampered by being short. For a musical artist as creative as Dar Williams it is astonishing how little new music she created for this album. Even so, this is very much the creative work of singer-songwriter Dar Williams. Williams wrote all of the songs and she performs all of the lead vocals on this album. As well, on almost every track, Williams plays at least one musical instrument. The only creative aspect Dar Williams was not involved with on this album was the production.

On The Green World, Dar Williams sings about having faith (“Playing To The Firmament,” “And A God Descended”), surviving mental illness and/or suicide (“After All”), and changes in life (“Spring Street”). She also sings about creative influences in art (“I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono”) and love (“Another Mystery”). Dar Williams does not abandon her folk audience who essentially made her career as she presents musical storysongs like “We Learned The Sea.” However, The Green World is much more than a classical folk album. Instead, it has a modern sound and feel to it; those looking for a starkly produced folk album will be disappointed by the time “And A God Descended,” the second track, begins.

The album instead sounds like an alternative pop-rock album – “alternative” having become a hodgepodge of anything that did not achieve commercial success – with a rich guitar, piano, bass and percussion sound on almost every track. Within those instruments, though, Dar Williams creates a sound that is very diverse. “After All” is soft, slow and melodic , while “Another Mystery” has an almost Country sound with its upbeat, singsong instrumental accompaniment.

As for the vocals, Dar Williams continues to illustrate her phenomenal range on The Green World. While nothing quite compares to seeing Dar Williams live, on The Green World, her vocals are near-flawless and the result is a listening experience which is smooth, clear and sometimes heartwrenching. Williams tends to perform in the soprano range for The Green World and while she goes lower on “What Do You Love More Than Love,” she stretches to the highest points of the register for “Calling The Moon” and she presents her songs melodically and with an uncommon beauty.

Lyrically, there are few vocalists who are performing smarter original material than Dar Williams. While “After All” might seem an obvious choice because it is one of Dar Williams more popular songs, there is a reason for that. Anyone who has ever struggled with life and death and/or mental health issues hears “And when I chose to live / There was no joy / It's just a line I crossed / I wasn't worth the pain my death would cost / So I was not lost or found . . . So go ahead, push your luck / Say what it is you gotta say to me / We will push on into that mystery / And it'll push right back /And there are worse things than that / Cause for every price / And every penance that I could think of / It's better to have fallen in love / Than never to have fallen at all” (“After All”) it is hard not to be moved to tears. Williams has a powerful knack for creating perfect lyrical embodiments of complex emotions.

That’s not to say the album isn’t fun or doesn’t have some moments of fun to it. With “Another Mystery,” she makes a stab at playful and she succeeds. Using more creative imagery than most musical artists performing today, she presents her lines “You could pursue it, hell I could do it, / I'll just be quiet when I get angry and hurt, / I'm stopping traffic, cinemagraphic, / With my long black coat hanging down in the dirt, / And my hair clinging to my face in the rain, / Like a goddess from the cult of beautiful pain / I don’t want to be another mystery” (“Another Mystery”) and she reminds the listener how fun it can be to throw oneself completely into love.

And, despite my usual bugaboo about faith-based music, Dar Williams does it remarkably well on The Green World. Indeed, she sings more about faith than any individual religion (though there are druidic references in “Calling The Moon” and Christian references in songs like “And A God Descended”) and here her imagery makes the songs more about faith, questioning religion and finding something to believe in as opposed to pushing any one religious agenda. With lyrics like “well you mend your clothes and patch your roof / And slivers of god’s shattered truth / Grow tender as the grass in clean swept yards” (“And A God Descended”) Williams teleports even the cynics to a world where it’s better to believe in something than to fall apart.

As for the limited edition version, that c.d. comes in a plastic-less package (to promote the idea of a green world) and it has the additional track “O Canada Girls.” I held out for the limited edition version, though it took a decade for someone to find me a copy!, because at my first concert Williams performed the song live and it was exceptional for me. With or without the bonus track, The Green World is a perfect album.

While “After All” is the superlative track, what caught me about The Green World was how it is a perfect album, becoming more than the sum of its parts. Instead of being a random collection of singles, this album is a strong work where the listener is taken on a musical journey thematically and through different musical styles that holds up exceptionally well over multiple listens.

For other works by Dar Williams, please check out my reviews of:
The Honesty Room
Mortal City
Out There Live


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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