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Kathryn Williams

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    Kathryn Williams

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    Dog Leap Stairs 8 ( 1999 )
    Leazes Park / Night Came / What Am I Doing Here? / No-one To Blame / Something Like That / Lydia / Handy / Dog Without Wings / Fade / Madmen and Maniacs

    Slow music, lyrical relationship studies and observations. A wispy, hazy voice that rarely strays above a subdued whisper, yet the melodies are haunting in their own unasumming way. A melancholic feel permeates this set and it was released on her own label, too. Rumoured to have cost all of £80 to record, so don't go around expecting glossy false nails and coiffured hair. This is sparse music that punches harder than it's external surface initially appears to indicate. Kathryn Williams drew comparisions to a Nick Drake, to a Joni Mitchell and there are hints of a jazz music lover buried beneath the acoustic guitar lines. 'Leazes Park' is one of two songs, I think, that have benefitted from being recorded in an actual studio, a prospective deal for a record label. That Kathryn ultimately decided to go it alone was out of insisting on complete artistic control. Anyway, 'Leazes Park' has so many intricate, simple melodic lines, both on the guitar and Kathryn's vocal lines. She harmonises with herself and the song is almost perfect. One listen isn't enough, because it's not a whole, it's not a beginning, middle and end kind of a song. 'You're just in love...' sings Ms Williams, and the song fades.... it could carry on all day. It's an utterly gorgeous song, made all the better by the contrast presented by the next song, 'Night Came'. It's a song simply recorded, just voice and guitar. It seems like she's right in front of you, the lights are all off and this loneliness is coming at you. It's spellbinding, it really is.

    'Dog Leap Stairs' is a short album, so any potential filler tracks are quickly overcome by another potential mini-masterpiece. 'No One To Blame' is another reach into the melancholy, the guitar picking of 'Lydia' is very Nick Drake I suppose and very impressive too, actually. Reveals her mastery of the acoustic. The lyrics of 'Dog Without Wings' are very interestingly evocative and as if to demonstrate this is all about the songs, the closer 'Madmen And Maniacs' was recorded live. Kathryn Williams sings, a piano plays in the background. Her voice seems barely there, yet the first line is 'No one is gonna hurt you' and from there on in, this very simple little tune, with spaces and acoustics and such simplicity, keeps you listening over and over again. The album isn't perfect. It's a little too soft and unassuming, yet its brevity also keeps the record grounded. Initially released to minimal distribution, her next set would see demand for a re-issue of 'Dog Leap Stairs' granted. An artistic leap was about to take place.

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    Little Black Numbers 9 ( 1999 )
    We Dug a Hole / Soul To Feet / Stood / Jasmine Hoop / Fell Down Fast / Flicker / Intermission / Tell The Truth As If It Were Lies / Morning Song / Toocan / Each Star We See / We Came Down From The Trees

    The Nick Drake comparisons were flying around even more once ‘Little Black Numbers’ was released. This was my own personal entry point into the world of Kathryn Williams and it once again demonstrates the effectiveness of the Mercury Music Awards in bringing attention to worthy artists that otherwise may slip through the net. In truth, the Drake comparisons are really only audible on a couple of tracks. Kathryn Williams has moved forwards from her debut, creating effective acoustic music and glorious sounds from a relatively small group of musicians. A single, repeated and strummed guitar opens ‘We Dug A Hole’ upon which Kathryn sings in her customary soft and soulful manner. A minute or so into the track, she’s joined by double-bass and a couple of violins and cellos. The sound is difficult to describe, it reminds me of something, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps some of the softer, John Cale assisted moments from the first Velvet Underground LP, but that doesn’t really adequately describe it. The lyrics really paint a picture. She uses simple language and words, but uses them poetically to describe a scene or emotion and she seems to be painting the words, drawing the scene in your own imagination. Not all the songs work like this, but her better songs certainly do. With her voice up so close, she’s almost stood next to you as the songs play. It’s a warming, special feeling. ‘We Dug A Hole’ is also immediately better than even the highlights from her debut set, it’s a song that’s distinctive and effectively marks the arrival of a major new artist of importance.

    Certain fans/critics have said you could stamp the ‘Witchseason’ logo on the back of the CD ( Fairport, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny record label ) and that it would be utterly appropriate. After reading the Joe Boyd book ‘White Bicycles’, he mentions Kathryn in passing a couple of times. She does seem to be that kind of artist, but that’s no bad thing. On the contrary, seeing as those Joe Boyd produced LPs by Fairport, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake and Richard Thompson are amongst many of my favourite ever records, this is actually a good comparison to have been made by anybody. “Is your life so exciting, you tell everyone you meet’ goes ‘Soul To Feet’, a masterful portrayal of someone who spends all their time thinking of themselves. ‘We Came Down From The Trees’ is the other pick of the bunch here. Beautiful, desolate cello, violin. A few little bars of double-bass to create a motif. I won’t call it her ‘Fruit Tree’, that’s tempting fate. Besides, there’s much more to come from Kathryn Williams. Ah! ‘Tell The Truth As If It Were Lies’, awesome tune, absolutely awesome song. Again, the evocative combination of guitar, strings and double-bass pick out the tune above which Kathryn Williams sings and holds you in the middle of the song. You’re already there, placing yourself somewhere within the tune and what it’s depicting. I love music that isn’t ‘just’ for entertainment, but also has a whole other level as well. She can do that and at a standard only the very great song-writers can.

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    Readers Comments

    dave harris dave.harris2@fco.gov.uk
    I first heard Kathryn Williams on her CD Old Low Light and was bowled over. Beautiful voice with intelligent, heartfelt, and sometimes intriguing lyrics about mainly everyday things with which we can all associate with. Her latest offering (as far as I know) is Over Fly Over which is a little bit more experimental with regard to the instruments used and, in my modest opinion, not as fulfilling as her other albums. 'Relations' her album of covers by people as diverse as Leonard Cohen and Python Lee Jackson is amazing. This album shows how truly diverse Kathryn can be. Her backing musicians are all first rate - I particularly like the tracks on all her albums which feature the cello. All her albums are well recorded and without an awful lot of money being spent on the production. A few artists I can think of could learn a thing or two from that. If you like Kathryn Williams try listening to Rosie Thomas, an American lady who has pushed out three CDs in the last couple ! of years.

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    this page last updated 24/02/07

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