Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
January 22, 2011
Review by Abby Wood
(WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., January 22, 2011) The Clark Art Institute kicked off its impressive 2011 musical season this past Saturday evening with the lovely female singer-songwriter Dar Williams, whose haunting melodies, touching lyrics, and quirky storytelling thawed out the audience members coming in from the freezing temperatures.
Williams has a vocal style quite like that of Joan Baez (who happened to be one of Williams’s early supporters): a variable, semi-operatic, vibrato-laced, high-pitched tone full of passion—and it was on full display this evening. The heart-wrenching “If I Wrote You” was bare-boned and vulnerable, full of wanting and yearning for a lover’s response, and the teenage anthem “Are You Out There?” featured an impressive yodel, not to mention the easily-reached high pitches on almost every tune.
The show featured a myriad of songs from Williams’s new album, Many Great Companions, a two-CD set which she humbly described as a “best-of album…I don’t think it’s a ‘greatest hits’ because I never had any hits!” Dar Williams has all the potential to be a pop-star singer-songwriter but modestly remains a goddess of the indie-folk realm, dedicated to her family and her music instead of appearances and chart successes.
Williams has this amazing ability to delve deep into the psyche of the characters of her songs. From the angry and questioning narrator of “Buzzer”—based, as she explained, on the famous Milgram experiment on obedience to authority at Yale—to the naive and sweet little girl of “The Babysitter is Here,” sprinkled with hints of sarcasm that weren’t as apparent on the recorded version. Quite the storyteller herself, each one of Williams’s songs is like a little narrative unto itself, complete with interaction and conversations. Oftentimes it felt as if she was speaking directly to you, asking for approval (which she most certainly received from the sold-out auditorium).
Other highlights of the evening included a surprise guest vocalist (Bernice Lewis) on “The One Who Knows,” a lullaby-like song about parenting, “The Ocean,” an angsty song about young adulthood, and “February,” a touching ballad on a disintegrating relationship trying to make it through another winter.
Williams wrapped up the night with perhaps her most popular tune, “The Christians and the Pagans,” to the great pleasure of the audience, and added in, “I like this mix-and-match country we have!”
Berkshire Living editorial assistant Abby Wood reviews music for www.berkshireliving.com.
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