Dar Williams, one of the best-known modern singer-songwriters, released her 6th solo album, The Beauty of the Rain, on February 18th. This album is an interesting mix of symbol and story, solo effort and collaboration, though it continues Dar’s gradual sidle towards a more mainstream sound.
The first thing to note about this album is its length. At 11 songs and just over 37 minutes, the album is almost exactly half the maximum capacity of a CD. While I embrace the ideal of quality over quantity, it’s somewhat disappointing to have the CD contain so little new material—particularly when compared to other recent releases, such as Tori Amos’ Scarlet’s Walk, which weighs in at a more satisfying 74 minutes.
Length aside, the album is interesting in several ways. This is Dar’s most collaborative solo album yet (leaving aside 1998′s Cry Cry Cry). People Dar invited into the studio for this album include such notables as Bela Fleck, Dave Matthews Band’s Stefan Lessard, Alison Krauss, John Popper, Michael Kang of String Cheese Incident, John Medeski, Chris Botti, and Cliff Eberhardt. The track “Closer to Me” (a beautiful song about being parted) is described in the liner notes as “one of [Dar's] first successful collaborations with another musician [Rob Hyman]“. This unprecedented level of collaboration brings a more mainstream band sound to Dar’s work; there’s not so much of the “girl with a guitar in her bedroom” feel. In many ways that’s okay; it makes her work more interesting to a larger audience, and there’s always plenty of acoustic work at a Dar concert if you like that.
That’s not to say that this album isn’t Dar’s own. There’s still a layer of the same woman who wrote “Play the Greed”, as well as more contemplative songs in the vein of “If I Wrote You”. Whether you like Dar’s activist side (“Your Fire Your Soul”, “The World’s Not Falling Apart”), her sad contemplative side (“The Beauty of the Rain”), or her upbeat cheerful songs (“I Saw A Bird Fly Away”), there’s likely something for you on this album. Personally I think the title track and “Closer To Me” are the best songs on the album, but there’s plenty of room for disagreement.
For those who aren’t sure Dar is for them, or who aren’t sure the new album is worth the price of admission (though I think it is), you can preview several of the album songs through the Flash Player at Dar’s official website, as well as get information on tour dates and subscribe to Dar’s e-mail newsletter. It doesn’t cost a dime, and you just might discover a new and wonderful artist.