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Album Review

Ashes is Cris Williamson's first new solo studio album in a very long time; her last three studio releases have been duo collections with fellow singer/songwriter Tret Fure. And that seems to be the point of Ashes, its title referring to the mythical Phoenix, which burns up and is reborn in its own ashes. This is Williamson's breakup album. The songs refer to the severing of a romantic relationship of two decades' standing, presumably Williamson's with Fure. That severing has been so painful to the singer that the songs sometimes make it seem like a more fatal tragedy, that the loved one is dead and the singer is struggling to survive and create a new life. But the seventh track, "Blue Weekend," spells out the real circumstances: "Now she's somebody else's girl." Romantic discord is one of the chief inspirations for popular song lyrics, and Williamson's unhappiness has fueled her creativity, resulting in an excellent collection of songs. As usual, she blends folk-rock with Caribbean rhythms. As usual, she is highly self-referential: more than one song looks back to her breakthrough album, The Changer and the Changed. But then, she is at another crossroads in her life and career, and the phrase "the changer and the changed" has new meaning in the context of the split. Ashes is confessional and personal to the point that the listener may feel like he or she is invading the singer's privacy, reading her musical diary from a particularly difficult part of her life. But Williamson has chosen to share that diary unflinchingly, and the result is one of her most affecting albums.


Born: 1947 in Deadwood, SD

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Just as baseball historians can only speculate about how players in the old Negro leagues would have fared in the absence of segregation in the major leagues prior to the arrival of Jackie Robinson in 1947, so music historians may ponder what status Cris Williamson might have assumed if she had emerged at a time when admitted homosexuals were not subject to exclusion from major record labels. By the 1990s, openly gay women artists Melissa Etheridge, Indigo Girls, and k.d. lang were able to maintain...
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Ashes, Cris Williamson
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