(One Little Indian)
Kathryn Williams has quietly amassed a significant body of
work, work that is quiet itself but that is often devastatingly emotional.
Through eleven years and eight albums (including her collaboration with Neil
MacColl on 2008’s Two), Williams has
told small, precise stories, foregrounding a gentle finger-picked guitar and
her intimate, often childlike voice. The British singer-songwriter has earned a
Mercury Prize nomination (for 2000’s Little
Black Numbers) and many Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake comparisons.
Those comparisons are still valid on The Quickening, her first solo album since 2006’s Leave To Remain, but the album also
offers subtle variations from her past work; it rewards careful listening.
Recorded quickly, with a flexible and adventurous band, the album works with a
broad palette while still favoring understatement and pastel hues. Opener “50
White Lines” is a road song set to a rolling rhythm and a backing voice
counting the white lines, the repetitiveness mimicking the hypnotic effect of
night driving. “Black Oil,” on the other hand, floats on minimal, spacious
piano chords and spectral backing vocals, like a Keren Ann song. Elsewhere,
light electronics burble, an upright bass plays lead, mandolin and banjo trade
lines. Overall, however, the core is the same: Williams singing intimate songs
in a fragile voice, with everything thoughtful and restrained (perhaps too
restrained over the course of the album).
“Sad songs don’t sound so sad in the sun,” Williams sings to
begin “Just a Feeling.” Set to interlocking lines of beautifully layered
guitars and vibraphone, the song sounds one of the album’s few false notes: it-like
the rest of The Quickening— is
gorgeously sad no matter what the weather or time of day.
Standout Tracks: “Just a Feeling,” “Wanting and Waiting”