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Mortal City

Dar Williams

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Album Review

On the first track of her second album, Dar Williams makes clear her intention to break out of the acoustic singer/songwriter ghetto: "As Cool As I Am" is full-out rock & roll with funky drums and a chorus built on massed choo-choo harmonicas. She doesn't stay in rock mode for long, but the more aggressive approach continues to inform her sound even when she retreats into a more typical acoustic setting. It's interesting to note that as her music gets more consistent, so do her lyrics. Over a spare guitar-and-cello accompaniment, she muses on the various ways that February can symbolize stages in a relationship ("And when we got home, we just started chopping wood/Because you never know how next year will be"). Elsewhere she finds her boyfriend "in the arms of a Student Against the Treacherous Use of Fur" and wishes she hadn't called a certain friend to help her move out. Funny? Oh, yes — "The Christians and the Pagans" is hysterical, and so is "The Pointless, Yet Poignant, Crisis of a Co-Ed" (believe it or not). And it's the humor gone before that makes a song as naked as "Family" or as conceptually risky as "This Was Pompeii" come across not just well, but with enormous power. The really exciting thing is that her next album is even better.

Customer Reviews


This was the first Dar album I ever had, and it's still one of my favourites. The songs are lovely, well sung and singable, and her vocals are clear and easy to understand. There's not a song on this album that I have never liked. "As Cool As I Am" starts the energy off with a lot of energy, while "February" drops the tempo back down for something bittersweetly contemplative. "Iowa" is probably one of my favourite songs of all time, with lyrics like "and we walk in a world of safe people and at night we go into our houses and burn" and "what is love? where did it get me? whoever thought of love is no friend of mine". "The Christians and the Pagans" picks up the pace again: it's a fun song, but with meaning behind it that some people could do well to listen to. "This Was Pompeii" is slow and sad, and once again has lovely lyrics, for example: "once I had a sadness, the sadness turned to trust, the trust turned into ashes and to lawyers and dust". "The Ocean" is described by Dar herself as "a sea shanty, gone awry", and it has all the enchantment of the draw of the sea it describes. "Family" is softer and slower, and terribly poignant. The next three songs are lighter, and a lot of fun, with lyrics like "If you're gonna get your heart broke, you better do it just right; it's gotta be raining, and you gotta move your stuff that night" ("The Blessings"). "Mortal City" makes for a quiet, contemplative finish, with some more lovely lyrics. I recommend "Mortal City" to... pretty much anybody, particularly people looking to see what Dar's music is like, as I was.


Born: 19 April 1967 in Mount Kisco, NY

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Dar Williams has become a major force on the New England folk scene. An idiosyncratic songwriter who writes folk songs from a unique, often insightful perspective, Williams takes pains to avoid the coy and the quirky; her songwriting and performing style has been compared to that of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, but with a few acidic and at times hilarious twists. She was born in Mount Kisco, New York, but raised in Chappaqua, the daughter of medical writer/editor Gray Williams and Marian Ferry, an...
Full bio

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