Six years was certainly worth the wait.
Six years seems rather a long time between studio albums, particularly if you are as talented as someone as Dar Williams; The New Yorker has described Williams as “one of America’s very best singer-songwriters.” But if you also write young adult novels and an urban planning study, run songwriting retreats, and then crash smack into a global pandemic, perhaps it’s not that long. Anyway, Williams has now produced ‘I’ll Meet You Here’, a cracking collection of songs, touching on relationships, climate change, body issues and small-town xenophobia. And it is all rather good.
The album opens with ‘Time Be My Friend’, lots of excellent twangy guitar and heavy drums, the twang maintaining the sound to the end, this song is like having a conversation with time itself, and just accepting what is happening right now, no demands, no expectations. As Williams explains, “We didn’t predict that we’d have to befriend time in a new way. We had to be kinder to time and, in a way, time was trying to be kind with us.” The unexpected horn section opening to ‘You Give It All Away’, with full additional “whoa, whoas” to complement the soulful vibe, sets the listener on a very different path to the opening track, always a great way to maintain attention.
The pace is slowed with ‘Let The Wind Blow’, an allegorical adventurous tale of survival and getting home from the viewpoint of a woman who has weathered plenty of storms, and ‘Magical Thinking’, a song about relationships, where we are hoping against hope…. “Driving at midnight, it’s when the dreaming starts again/It all comes true if the light turns before I count to ten.” And yet despite knowing it’s all ‘magical thinking’ you really don’t want to give up on it.
There are a couple of tracks that contain powerful messages, which truly stand out. The first is ‘Little Town’, which tells of the bigoted local in a small town not best pleased with the arrival of newcomers….”It’s nothing that you did, it’s not the colour of your skin/But one thing you should know, you’ve gotta take it slow.” Slowly, the world turns and the local finally embraces the town’s new diversity. The story is based on a couple of small-town mayors that Williams met on her travels. “These mayors, who looked at new immigrant populations as a gift and went the extra mile to translate that to their old buddies, were very moving to me,” said Williams.
The second is the climate change call to action, ‘Today and Every Day’. Williams feels strongly that we should all be part of the solution and recently launched the Today and Everyday Challenge which asks folks to share on social media ways they’re doing their part to help save the planet. Everyone who does this will even be entered to win tickets to a show of hers and an autographed album.
The album closes with an old song of Williams’, ‘You’re Ageing Well’, that appeared on her first album and was recorded by Joan Baez. When Baez subsequently invited her to tour, her future as a folk artist of note was secured. The song brings a push back to the conventional expectations of women, discussing body issues and self-loathing, but then how a mentor guided her to a more positive path. Simple piano and vocal, a beautiful way to end this album.
Musically, the record is of a very high standard, with moving cello, tinkling piano and bright guitars and mandolin perfectly placed throughout, and even has Gail Ann Dorsey (of David Bowie’s live band) on bass. But it’s the lyrical content that truly lifts the album, and makes for a pleasurable listening experience. Just don’t leave it another six years, eh?