Dar Williams Biography
Last updated: 06/21/2012 12:00:00 PM
One of the most acclaimed and evocative artists of her generation, Dar Williams crafts tunes that resonate with passion and integrity. On her new Razor & Tie CD, The Green World?her fourth solo outing and first since 1997?the singer/songwriter pushes her art to the next level with a collection of songs that are personal, dynamic, and poignant.
From reflecting on the mysteries of the natural world to reminding herself of the importance of maintaining a playful attitude in the midst of tumultuous times, Williams? The Green World delivers a remarkable batch of eleven short-stories-in-song that have a transformative power. The rich, vibrant sounds of Williams?s newest work showcase her characteristically thoughtful lyrics with an ambition and reach not yet heard from this artist. The expansive scope of these songs immediately envelops you, inviting you into The Green World.
In explaining the title of the new CD, Williams refers to a key concept she gleaned from an undergrad Shakespeare class at Wesleyan University?that the playwright/bard often centered his plays on the conflict between the ?closed world? and the ?green world.?
?The closed world represented court life in Elizabethan England which set all the patterns of the day. It was the orderly part of life,? explains Williams. ?The green world was different. It was unpredictable and chaotic. It was an unmediated place literally represented by the forest, the wilderness, where you learned things you don?t necessarily want to know about yourself. Then you would bring the lessons you learned back to the closed world, ultimately spurring the process by which civilizations change. In that respect, the closed world can only renew itself and grow with the green world?s influence.?
After college in the early ?90s, Williams launched her music career on the Boston-Cambridge coffeehouse folk circuit. In 1994 she recorded her first collection of songs, The Honesty Room, on her own homegrown label where it was picked up by Waterbug Records, then re-released in 1995 to a wider audience by Razor & Tie, the Manhattan-based independent record label which continues to be Williams? home.
With The Honesty Room a bona fide hit (thanks to the popularity of such gems as ?You?re Aging Well? and ?When I Was a Boy,? it has sold nearly 100,000 copies), Williams followed up in 1996 with her sophomore disc, Mortal City. It not only out-sold her debut, but it also received widespread critical notice. Spin magazine said ?Good singer/songwriters know how to tell a story . . . As younger ones go, Dar Williams is perhaps the most promising.? And the Chicago Tribune called her ?emotionally present, politically earnest, a born storyteller with a self-effacing humor and armed with a voice that soars and rattles the bones.?
In 1997, Williams upped the ante and recorded her third album, End of the Summer. It too proved to be a hit. People magazine lauded the CD, noting that the artist ?challenges herself with a strong back-up band and more complex arrangements, adding a pop-rock feel to many of the tracks.? In support of the disc, Williams took to the road again, this time drawing crowds to larger venues, including Town Hall in New York City. New York Times critic Ben Ratliff hailed her September 1997 concert as a ?significant mark in her career,? attributing Williams growing momentum over the last three years to word of mouth, Internet buzz and the ?strenuous advocacy? of admiring radio programmers.
Williams has kept her formidable legion of fans happy by touring for a good portion of the time between End of the Summer and the recording of The Green World. A major component of her success, past tours have included stints on the Lilith Fair, the collaborative project Cry Cry Cry and have seen her share the stage with artists like Richard Thompson and Ani DiFranco. Williams also has been actively involved in many environmental and social justice movements, including her non-profit foundation, The Snowden Environmental Trust, which helps preserve wildlife habitats around the world.
For The Green World, Williams enlisted producer Stewart Lerman and recorded the album primarily in Woodstock, New York with some session work done in New York City. The main band features Steuart Smith (Shawn Colvin, Rosanne Cash) on various instruments (including guitar, keyboards, and accordion), Rob Hyman (Joan Osborne, The Hooters) on keyboards, Graham Maby (Joe Jackson, Natalie Merchant) on bass and Steve Holley (Paul McCartney, Joe Cocker) on drums. As in her previous outings, Williams showcases her appealingly complex lyrics but also opts for arrangements that infuse each song with dramatic resonance. ?I am so grateful to Stewart,? she says. ?He got the right musicians and guided the sessions. While all the songs are thematically unified, they have their own voices. Stewart was able to approach each song like an individual short story that took on its own life.?
Throughout her career Williams has eschewed clichéd and superficial expression in favor of digging deeper. She aspires to an artistry that not only entertains but also informs and inspires?where the personal intersects with the political, where beauty blooms from the darkness, where journeys through discord lead to clarity. ?I?m just holding up mirrors at interesting places,? she says. ?I?m trying to capture life at strange angles.?
And as for what category of music she sees herself in these days, Williams says, ?Sixties folk rock was my original muse and the folk audience?people who listen to music off the beaten track?fostered my career. I definitely don?t want to abandon the genre but I also need to make sure I?m Dar Williams first.?