End Of The Summer

Dar Williams

Produced by Steven Miller

(RT 2830-2)

Razor & Tie
P. O. Box 585, Cooper Station
New York, NY 10276

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Ky Hote
(maestro@jimhancock.com)

Tracks (all songs by Dar Williams except where noted):

I had truly expected End of the Summer to mark Dar's emergence into the mainstream of mass-market radio. All the reviews I read said it showed "pop" tendencies, and I imagined many Dar-heads feared the worst. Granted, Dar is accompanied by a fine cast of more established musicians (who have worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Suzanne Vega), as well as stars of the New England folk scene. But this is not the "Dar Williams Band" and none of them overshadow Dar or her songs. On End of the Summer Dar's vocals are again easily distinguishable from the tunes' rhythmic atmospheres. You can hear the words and get a feel for the woman who is speaking to us. This aspect of its production separates this CD from most "pop" works.

This album would be a treat to hear on the radio, but it doesn't strike me as being more "alternative" than any of her previous works. If I were to compare Dar to other pop artists, it would be to ones known for their innovative creativity instead of their knack for hitting the charts: there are hints of U2 here. End of the Summer is not a change of direction for Dar, it's further evolution of a revealing writing style. It's a very pulsating album, but it never sacrifices content for beat.

Dar's penchant for anthems is well represented here with optimistic ballads like her closing cover of the Kinks' Better Things, and culture snapshots like The Party Generation and Teenagers Kick Our Butts. Her reputation as a "voice for her generation" comes not from her age, but her ability to observe and report in her songs. The Party Generation chant

Tonight we're going to be the party
We will party all night long
We are the party generation
Lift your head, lift your head
Party on.

is a non-judgmental and sentimental look at a lifestyle of her peers, while Teenagers Kick Our Butts is a humble nod to a younger generation. This song's unapologetic encouragement reminds me that the wisest prophets are the ones admired by the young.

We drink and smoke to numb our pain
We read junk novels on the plane
We use authority for show so we can be a little smarter
We can still grow and many do
It's when we stop, we can't reach you

Are You Out There, the album's opening song, is perhaps the most radio friendly song, as much from its subject matter as its production:

Are out there, can you hear this
Jimmy Olson, Johnny Memphis
I was out here listening all the time
And though the static walls surround me
You were out there and you found me
I was out here listening all the time

For the lovers of the mood-enhancing lyrical novelettes Dar writes, there is also plenty here. My Friends is an appreciative ballad that I predict will be sung at weddings, reunions and included in summer camp repertoires. My favorite introspective ballad here is If I Wrote You, the voice of an unconfident romantic (enhanced here by backing vocals by Richard Shindell). The melody of the title moves along cautiously, much like Jefferson Airplane's Pretty As You Feel (off the album Bark) and it's lyrics are evocative of Townes Van Zandt, to whom it is dedicated.

And when the spring came and flooded all the streams
It's like how you got the night you told me all your dreams

Dar's music has always been rhythmic and edgy. The backwards guitar (Are You Out There), "organic beat drum" (Bought and Sold), and sampled "textures" (It's a War in There) used here seem like a natural progression from Gideon Freudmann's cello on The Great Unknown on her first album The Honesty Room. Her choice of subjects and scenery remains varied, and with each album Dar finds more ways to present her cinematographic visions.

Dar acknowledges the influence of "years on the road, listening to the radio" while she formulated this album, but never lapses into formula songwriting. She probably wasn't only listening to top 40 stations anyway. Sometimes she could only get AM radio. In that light: She's not caustic and self-serving like Rush, nor is she syrupy and serene like late night guru Bruce Williams. More like Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the reigning Queen of advice shows, Dar displays perfect balance: arrogance and humility, showmanship and raw talent, observations and common sense. The result is an intricate album of songs from the fertile mind of a powerful young songwriter.

Edited by Shawn Linderman

Copyright 1997, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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