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Real Deal

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Album Review

The most striking immediate impression made by Cris Williamson's 12th solo studio album, Real Deal, is its musical spareness. The singer/songwriter has long been associated primarily with the piano, and keyboards of one sort or another have provided the basis for most of her arrangements. Not so here. For the first seven of the 11 tracks, Williamson, who does not play at all apart from the strumstick for which she is credited on "Mercy," contents herself with two or three backup instruments, usually stringed ones; when Barbara Higbie's piano begins to play on "Rumi's Song" five tracks in, it comes as a shock. On the last four tracks, more instruments are used, building up to the folk-rock of the title song, which even boasts an electric guitar solo, but keyboards are de-emphasized. This simple, folk approach suits Williamson's songs, which are also simple and folk-like in construction, with lyrics that tend either to be plainspoken and direct or abstract and poetic, but in both cases clearly expressed. Williamson takes on politics in "The Waters of Spokane," a condemnation of polluters, and she also stakes out a position in opposition to everything from the mass media to the FBI in "My House Tonight," which sounds like something Pete Seeger could sing. But she can also show a light touch, particularly on the love song "True Story/True Blue" and the Latin-tinged "Hecho en Mexico." And she isn't above borrowing from poets such as Emily Dickinson ("Songbird") and Rumi ("Rumi's Song") in her search for imagery in her more flowery efforts. Real Deal is not one of her great albums, but it is a sturdy, workmanlike collection of songs presented in a surprisingly unadorned style.


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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Real Deal, Cris Williamson
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