Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mellow Dar: The Beauty Of The Rain

The Good: Dar Williams' voice, Decent lyrics, Creativity
The Bad: Inconsistent instrumentals, Homogenous quality of sound, Duration
The Basics: In a significantly quieter album than usual, Dar Williams delivers more poignant lyrics with her amazing voice on The Beauty Of The Rain.

Dar Williams has a great deal of energy and enthusiasm and she has historically used that to create a diverse range of music that originally earned her the label of "folk artist." As her albums have progressed, she has continued that tradition of diverse sounds, powerful issues and intrigue on her albums. It is somewhat baffling, then, that on The Beauty of the Rain, Dar Williams' mid-2000s album, she seems to forsake that for a more consistent mellow sound.

The Beauty Of The Rain is essentially a slow album that could chart any song on it on the AM light rock stations around the country. Well, it could if the nation still had a network of AM light rock stations. Instead, this is a quiet album that seems noticeably lacking of the up-tempo contrast songs that Williams usually puts on her albums by way of balance. Indeed, Williams' most famous song "As Cool As I Am," is an up-tempo piece that opens Mortal City. There is no such track on The Beauty of the Rain.

I've listened to this album now a dozen times and it is finally growing on me. There are a few factors that caused me to reverse my original opinion on this album. After the first listen, I was horribly disappointed. The Beauty Of The Rain seemed to me to be utterly lacking in energy and charisma. Add to that, the disc is less than 38 minutes long. I loathe short c.d.s. The songs blended one into another and I could not, after four listens, tell a single lyric or song that truly stood out.

I'm so glad I am not a professional reviewer, because my initial reaction to this album would have led to a depressed and scathing review. What I've learned since my first few listens is that I was wrong. No, the album is still dreadfully short and all of the tracks (including the almost reggae "I Saw A Bird Fly Away") are quiet and understating, never breaking through and actually rocking out. But some of my other opinions have since certainly changed.

First is, despite the way the songs flow from one to another, there are definitely different tracks. When I turned the volume up from 2 to 2 1/2, I suddenly found the differences and there is a nice sense of flow between the very different "Mercy of the Fallen," "Farewell to the Old Me" and "I Saw A Bird Fly Away." Indeed, the haunting "Whispering Pines" is almost a shock before the more up-tempo "Your Fire Your Soul."

The emphasis on this album is almost solely in the lyrics, though a variety of musical instruments are used beyond simply guitars and pianos here. Williams is a masterful poet and she is not afraid to show it. She captures a wide array of themes, even if they sound so similar on this album. She tackles confusion ("The Mercy of the Fallen") to resolve ("Farewell To The Old Me"), hurt ("The Beauty Of The Rain") and love ("The One Who Knows") and contrasts pure imagery ("I Saw A Bird Fly Away") with a surprisingly clear retelling of a dream ("Fishing In the Morning"). She also has a cover song "Whispering Pines" which fits the motifs and contrasts so well that until I read the liner notes, I did not know it was not her song. Her musical exploration of humanity continues with clever lyrics that do not use the typical rhyme schemes, like:

"I have watched the kids who make their scenes. I have met the riot grrls who print their zines.
They write the word, they raise a thought. They say who they are, then try what they're not.
Because life is such a changing art. Life is such a changing art."
("The World's Not Falling Apart")

At least on par with the amazing lyrics of Dar Williams is her voice. She has an incredible voice that softly traverses the soprano and alto ranges. She has a smooth voice that perfectly articulates her wonderful lyrics. On "Whispering Pines," she has a haunting harmony that is beautiful and once again illustrates perfectly that Dar is a woman who can sing. She sings amazingly and she is not afraid to use her voice. Never on The Beauty Of The Rain is there a moment where the album comes close to being overproduced. Williams works on understatement everywhere, save the presentation of her voice and her lyrics. There she is pretty much unstoppable.

The problem with recommending The Beauty Of The Rain is that most listeners will not have to wait five times before the album gets underneath their skin. A fan of Dar Williams will give her the chance, but those who are not already fans of hers will have trouble getting into this album and are likely to give up on it, even though her voice and lyrics are wonderful. In the end, I recommend it because it has grown on me and I'm confident anyone who wants something romantic, quiet and definitely an alternative to the standard pop-rock that we hear on the radio today.

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


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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