Dar Williams singing about an evolution

Latest album has roots in life changes

Music: in concert, CDs

April 17, 2003|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Please excuse her.

Dar Williams has a cold, and she's blowing her nose -- loudly. It's 10 in the morning. But despite her stuffy nasal passages and the dreary weather outside her Manhattan apartment window, she's chipper.

"Sorry about that," she says over the phone. "I'm almost over this."

Like her music, the woman is real. She's thoughtful, too. And her latest album, The Beauty of the Rain, is a shimmering reflection of what the folk-pop artist has been experiencing in the last few years, her evolution. The changes have been mostly good and revelatory. Last May, she was married. And she recently moved from Massachusetts to New York.

"The songs on the new album are rooted in the move I made," says Williams, who performs in the area this weekend. "Where The Green World [her last studio album] was a meditation on the big picture, on the sky and fields of Massachusetts and being surrounded by nature, The Beauty of the Rain is more tied to an urban landscape. I was in a college town before, and you ask big questions. But I got less interested in what it's all about. In the city, you deal with what it is."

The musical palette this time glows with bolder colors. And each song is executed with more confidence, the approach easy, precise and diverse. There's the festive, world-beat sound on "I Saw a Bird Fly Away," reminiscent of Paul Simon. And the floating, gossamer-soft title track recalls the best of Joan Baez.

"It's the same [production] team from The Green World," Williams says. "I felt closer to them personally, so I followed them musically in the studio. The common denominator is going to be love at the end of the day, so I just let the team follow a groove."

Growing up, Williams was always encouraged to follow her own groove. She was born 35 years ago in Mount Kisco, N.Y., but was raised in Chappaqua. Her folks, educated at Yale and Vassar, raised Williams in an atmosphere teeming with books, poetry, music. At age 9, Williams began studying guitar and wrote her first song at 11. In high school, she was active in drama, composed music and wrote plays.

After receiving a B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1990, she moved to Boston and dabbled in the arts scene there -- directing plays and operas, eventually becoming stage manager for the Opera Company of Boston. But her music kept calling. So Williams started seriously working on her craft, taking voice lessons, writing, studying records by Jane Siberry, Kate Bush, Meredith Monk and Elvis Costello.

"I also listened to a lot of classical," Williams says. "It's a great place for melody."

For a year, from '92 to '93, she performed in Boston coffeehouses. But the reception was a little cold. There was more growing to do, and she needed new surroundings. So Williams packed up and headed for the artsy, serene environs of Northhampton, Mass.

Honesty Room, her 1993 debut for her label Razor & Tie, displayed indelible melodies and keen, observant lyrics as Williams' crystal soprano ebbed and flowed through the sensitive arrangements. The 1996 follow-up, Mortal City, expanded her fan base, and she became a hit with critics.

Four other albums, including the rock-leaning End of Summer from '97, followed. And for the past five years, Williams has kept a busy tour schedule with about 100 dates a year.

She blows her nose again and apologizes. "Curiosity about the world and the audience and how cool they are keep me going out there," Williams says. "At the end of the day, I discover that my own insecurity is the fuel that keeps me going, too. The desire to belong and this feeling that everybody's at the party and I'm not, keep me going."

She pauses and snickers at a thought. "You know, you got to be careful because you can't get too spooked by your own insecurity. If you do that, you won't be able to do much of anything."

Dar Williams

TOMORROW

When: 9 p.m.

Where: The 9:30 Club, 815 V St. N.W., Washington

Tickets: $25. Order tickets through www.930.com

SATURDAY

When: 8 p.m. (doors open at 7:30)

Where: Avalon Theater, 40 E. Dover St., Easton

Tickets: $30. Call Ticketmaster at 410-481-SEAT or visit www.ticketmaster.com

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