Ask many writers when they made the jump from avid reader to scribe and they’ll breathlessly recall the first time they happened upon some big name writer. Joyce Carol Oates. Stephen King. H.P. Lovecraft. Bryon. Keats. Shakespeare. Homer.
For me, it was Dar Williams. She was my introduction to the rich folk culture of Boston in the middle ’90s. I marveled at her songs “February,” “Mortal City,” and “The Babysitter’s Here,” how they told fully realized stories in song, like I had never heard before. They were universal yet quirky. Funny and heartbreaking. It was still a few years before I discovered other folk musicians crafting their own comic-tragic story-songs, still a few before I stumbled upon Amy Hempel, a writer who could open your heart one sentence and pull it out with the next. Her words were supported, accented by the music.
Dar–as her fans call her–was aÂ lyricist/storytellerÂ first, musician second.
Even in a cluttered, confused artistic landscape–tapes to CDs to digital music–Williams’ voice stood out as wise beyond her years, earnest and unabashedly quirky in an age of dispassionate irony and rage. Attempts to broaden her artistic scope yielded mixed results as she explored exotic instrumentation, pop influences, and novels. She drew equal inspiration from literary giants, yet she was always looking forward even while looking back. A soul who embraced the wanderlust of discovery in how the past shaped our future.
In the Time of Gods, her new album, finds Dar older and wiser, the roguish impulse of her younger days satisfied by the roots of family and community. She draws on classical Greek myth to tie the songs together, creating a musical circle that plays through to start again. And this is the right way to experience this album. Because to allow the gems onÂ …Gods to reveal themselves a listener must spend time with the songs, let the melody and meaning settle in the mind.
Though her music is tempered by experience it has the sameÂ potency–the ability to pull you from passive to active listening. As if aware of her own mortality, she celebrates more than classical gods. In the final track “Storm King,” she pays homage to icon Pete Seeger while accepting the weight of his mantle: “Storm King has borne the seasons all, borne them upon his brow…I am the Storm King now.”
While not as perfect asÂ Mortal City or quirky asÂ The Honesty Room, In the Time of Gods shows Williams has returned to her roots at last. And it is a beautiful thing to see the circle finally complete.