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Many Great Companions (Bonus Track Version)

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Album Review

Seven albums and 17 years into her recording career, Dar Williams certainly has a body of work that justifies a "greatest-hits" album, but she's opted to do something a bit more ambitious than just slap a bunch of her best-known tunes onto a CD. Many Great Companions is a two-disc set, with one disc collecting 20 songs from Williams' previous albums that have become fan favorites over the years, and the other consisting of new recordings of 12 tunes from her catalog (six of which appear on both discs), performed in stripped-down acoustic format with a few guests, including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Larkin, and Gary Louris of the Jayhawks (who also co-produced the new material). Though the new recordings are well done, the nature of the performances puts the focus on Williams' folky side, at the expense of the pop- and rock-influenced material that has represented some of her best work; Williams has been fortunate enough to work with producers who've fleshed out her songs without burying their lyrical and melodic strengths, and the no-frills versions of "Spring Street" and "What Do You Hear in These Songs" sound like pale shadows of the originals. Also, some of the numbers, such as "The Babysitter's Here" and "When I Was A Boy," were not especially far from solo acoustic recordings in the first place, and while Williams is a more confident and nuanced vocalist in 2010 than she was in 1993 when those songs were recorded for The Honesty Room, the differences are not so dramatic to keep the new recordings from seeming like footnotes in comparison to the original versions. However, both discs offer abundant evidence that Williams has been one of the best singer/songwriters to come out of the contemporary folk scene in the past two decades, and her material — heartfelt, soul-searching, and often witty and full of fascinating detail — is invariably impressive stuff. Ideally, Many Great Companions would be best purchased by two people going halves on the set — a devoted fan who wants to hear the new recordings can take disc one, someone unfamiliar with Williams can take disc two, and they'll both go home with something likely to please them.

Customer Reviews

Beautiful!

Just got this CD. It's my first Dar Williams album but definitely won't be my last. I'm going on a singer-songwriter cruise next year and Dar is one of the performers, so I wanted to get to know her music a little better. Not sorry I did...this CD is beautiful, haunting and a wonderful introduction to her musical talent. Maybe the iTunes album review is right, and some of these songs are "pale shadows" of her earlier recordings, but I'm partial to "folky" acoustic sound, and I also love the collaboration of artists, so both discs worked for this new admirer of her work. A great purchase.

Nice songwriting

If you own the other cds you probably don't need this one. She's a great artist.

"Pale shadows"? I disagree...

I think this set is a great introduction to Dar William's work and it provides a consistently interesting take on songs from the studio catalogue on both discs. As a long time fan who owns most of the albums from which the studio cuts are sourced, I happily paid the $7.99 sale price to get the complete acoustic set. And while there may not be anything truly revelatory about the songs to be found here, there are some lovely harmonies and, though it's nothing new for anyone who has seen her play an acoustic set in an intimate setting, a clear indication that sometimes her songs get overproduced in the studio. Free from distractions, you get the full-on quirky charm of her lyrics and the impressive musicality of both her writing and playing. My only quibble with the studio cuts would be the absence of "The Pointless, Yet Poignant, Crisis of a Co-Ed" from "Mortal City." While this set leans a little heavily on "Mortal", I'd argue that they could've easily replaced "The Ocean" with that little gem.

Biography

Born: April 19, 1967 in Mount Kisco, NY

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

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

Dar Williams became a major force on the New England folk scene. An idiosyncratic songwriter who wrote folk songs from a unique, often insightful perspective, Williams took pains to avoid the coy and the quirky; her songwriting and performing style have been compared to those 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 active...
Full Bio