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Little Black Numbers

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Album Review

Little Black Numbers earned its young songwriter a nomination for the Mercury Prize, and it was variously hailed by reputable sources as "genius" (Time Out), "endlessly moving" (MOJO), and "sheer perfection" (The Times). As tempting as it would be to dismiss such praise and attribute it to the typically excessive hyperbole machine of the British music press, it is virtually impossible to argue with the consensus in this case. Kathryn Williams' sophomore effort is, indeed, a thing of stunning precocity and allure. Little Black Numbers is a more substantial record than Dog Leap Stairs in almost every way. It is characterized by more confidence, more control of the material, and more complex emotional responses. The songs are sturdier, both lyrically and melodically, and the ante upped on the orchestration (with the full-band editions of the magnificent cellist Laura Reid and double bassist Jonny Bridgwood, as well as classical guitarist David Scott). They actually spark and build to ornate climaxes instead of gradually enveloping the listener with poised calm, as on the debut. But Williams' songs are still wisps of love letters written from that wishful, domestic place tucked inside everyone. They yearn for a security blanket ("We Dug a Hole") when feeling too open or exposed, and for transcendence when lost or overwhelmed ("Fell Down Fast," "Each Star We See"). They still harbor secrets in unspoken pasts ("Soul to Feet," "Tell the Truth as If It Were Lies"). They are lovelorn and struck with wistfulness ("Stood," the exquisite "Jasmine Hoop") in the most pleasingly self-conscious and reticent ways. These songs exist in our small, barely noticed gestures. They capture the ways in which we breathe and move, the quick, embarrassed glances we shoot at someone we love, the way we try to lose ourselves in the familiar warmth of another body. They revel in nothing less than the ways in which we are so beautifully human, flawed.


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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Little Black Numbers, Kathryn Williams
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