Telisha Williams announces twin themes of vulnerability and rebellious power at the very start of the first song, the anxious “Make You Mine,” on the album she and Doug Williams have just put out under the name “Wild Ponies.” That tension sustains into “Truth Is,” whose more easygoing beat crosses swords with a subtle, angular melody and unexpected minor chords in a thumping bridge. “Trigger” opens with a bloody scene: a wife has just shot her husband and declares, “Old times shall not be forgotten / And there’s no tree that won’t fall someday.” Williams practically spits the lyrics on this one.
A press release explains that a “true story of abuse and recovery” inspired the album. The songs don’t hold to any single theme, but you can feel the pain of experience even in the good-natured, traditional-sounding “Trouble Looks Good on You,” in which Telisha’s character, “about to let down my guard,” worries: “Can I trust my heart? / I wish I knew if you’d be true.” She explores sadness at the other end of a relationship too, singing the affecting marriage-gone-cold ballad “Want To Be Gone” with a broken voice.
She and her songwriting partner Doug Williams, who have roots in Virginia but are now based in Nashville, meld their voices comfortably in the wistful “Things That Used to Shine” and the gentle love song “Valentine’s Day,” the latter decorated lavishly with fills from Russ Pahl’s pedal steel. Doug’s lead vocals on the high-energy “Massey’s Run,” about a race car driver, don’t match the emotional force of Telisha’s singing, but he delivers the swampy “Revival Wasteland” with a drawly languor that’s half Ray Wylie Hubbard and half Sam Baker.
The duo break it down to the roots on the happy-go-lucky “Broken” whose refrain, “Everything I own is just a little bit broken,” will resonate with a great many listeners. So will “Iris,” I imagine, a lovely tribute to a half-Cherokee grandmother who had a mean drunk of a husband and “never held my hand” yet “somehow I know she loved me.”
There might be one too many slow songs on this album, sensitively produced by five-time Grammy winner Ray Kennedy (Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris), but altogether it drew me in. It’s currently streaming at American Songwriter.