Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Elisabeth Williamson - Deep


This week, I am presenting an album of wonderful music that could get passed over because of the cover art. I want to do whatever I can to make sure that doesn’t happen. You can see the cover of Elisabeth Williamson’s album Deep above. Yes, that is a lotus blossom floating in a pond, against a backdrop of a galaxy or nebula. It’s a beautiful image, but it’s going to give you exactly the wrong idea of what to expect from the music. This is not a new age album of music for meditation. I might cover something like that one day, but not right now.

Instead, call this folk music for now. A fairly large number of musicians appear on this album, and the liner notes don’t say who plays on which song. Williamson plays rhythm guitar, banjo, and ukulele, and there is upright bass on every track. They may be joined by additional guitars, mandolin, fiddle, pedal steel, and/ or piano. Somewhere in the mix, there is also accordion and concert harp, but they blend in so well that I’m not sure which songs they are used on. When there are drums, they are played softly with brushes.

Elisabeth Williamson sings in a clear low soprano. Her voice is full of warmth, but she knows how to express a full range of the emotions that can accompany love. About half of the songs are jazzy numbers that sound like standards from the 1930s. Williamson sings these in a voice that has the fizz of fine champagne. The rest of the songs have more of a contemporary new grass feel to them, and she modulates her voice to sound more modern here. The result could be a musical tug of war, but that never happens. This album makes sense as a whole, because Williamson and her fine band bring out the common element that unites these two styles. That element is Williamson’s romanticism.

All of these songs are about love. In Williamson’s world, love is indestructible. Once given, it can not be taken back or ever truly replaced. When a lover cheats, he may be lost, but never forgotten. Even when Williamson’s protagonists move on, their former lover is remembered fondly and with the best of wishes. The song Someday is all about this. In Paint the Town, a pair of lovers remember how they were together when their relationship was new, and the set out to experience those feelings again; the listener knows that they will succeed. Alone repeats the phrase “Alone with you” early on; only towards the end does the listener realize that this part of the song was a memory. And The Bell may be the most remarkable piece of writing on an album of very well written songs. Here, the protagonist has a husband or lover who works in a mine; we look in on her just as the alarm bell has gone off, indicating that there has been a serious accident in the mine. By the end of the song, neither the protagonist nor the listener know whether her lover is alive or dead. This is the most haunting song I have heard this year, and the music compliments the story beautifully.

Love is the most covered subject in the history of music, and there are abundant clichés to choose from. But Elisabeth Williamson avoids them all. She is a very visual writer, and she uses extended metaphors well too. So her tools are in place, but she never loses sight of what matters most. The emotion of these songs will stay with you for a long time. So, my advice is this. Get this album, and open it without looking at the cover. And prepare for a treat.

Elisabeth Williamson: Alone

Elisabeth Williamson: The Bell


Angela Christensen said...

Your blog is new to me, but it will no longer be a stranger to me. Thank you for your thoughtful, insightful and dead accurate review. And congratulations on the accuracy of your view of the astonishing person inside the writing, the voice and the vision. I'll be listening to your own voice with great care and interest.
Angie at Eat Here

Mel said...

Your review of Lis' album gave me a greater understanding of why it touches me so much. Her music is hard to categorize, but folk/bluegrass was the best I could come up with. Thanks for a great post, and I hope Lis' talent gets the recognition deserved.