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Dog Leap Stairs

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Album Review

On the basis of this debut album, originally released on her own Caw Records (and later reissued in the U.S. by East West), British singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams earned laudatory comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake. To be sure, there is some of each of those artists (both admitted influences) in Dog Leap Stairs. As with Drake's Five Leaves Left, some of Williams' songs (such as "Fade" and, with its lovely thread of cello, the resplendent "Lydia," a pair of the songs produced by PJ Harvey collaborator Head) are dusted with delicate, Baroque touches of stunning incandescence, and like the most intimate recordings (Both Sides Now, Blue) from Mitchell, the recording feels at times ("Handy," the glockenspiel-drizzled "Dog Without Wings") as if you are being ushered into the most private confessions of the songwriter. But while those allusions work for various brief stretches, a much more apt reference for Williams' method is the early Velvet Underground, particularly the Nico-fronted band of the first album, as well as Nico's own first solo LP, Chelsea Girl. The sentiment throughout Dog Leap Stairs is certainly not as taciturn and emotionally tranquilizing as those albums, but the music is often just as sparse and the melodies as affectingly brittle ("No One to Blame"). Williams' performance, on the other hand, is so achingly soulful that the songs ultimately feel life-affirming, even during the album's most baldly painful ("What Am I Doing Here?," the lovely piano ballad "Madmen and Maniacs") or darkly tethered ("Night Came," "Something Like That") moments, and even when it threatens to placidly vanish beneath its own bashfulness. There is nothing, in other words, brutal about the album's beauty; to the contrary, it is ultimately entrancing. In any event, the acclaim was merited. It is delightful, yes. It is charming. But Dog Leap Stairs, beneath its sedated surface, has teeth, too.


Born: 1974 in Liverpool, England

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s, '10s

British singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams began her career in 1999 with the release of Dog Leap Stairs, a beguiling set of low-key folk songs that drew comparisons to the hushed musings of Nick Drake. A native of Liverpool, Williams relocated to Newcastle to pursue a fine art degree, emerging somewhat unexpectedly with a promising musical career when her second album, 2000's Little Black Numbers, was nominated for Britain's prestigious Mercury Prize. More expansive than her debut, yet still winsomely...
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Dog Leap Stairs, Kathryn Williams
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