Review : Kathryn Williams - Relations
PopmattersThe expectations and conventions governing cover versions vary from genre to genre. Jazz and easy listening are built upon the notion of representing already-known material and have therefore developed an interpretive language of their own, one based around the idea of “standards”. Folk music has a long history of interpreting centuries-old song fragments and offering them in new or not-so-new forms. Hip-hop and other sample-based music has radically redefined our understanding of such borrowing and recycling. Rock musicians, meanwhile, have tended to value self-penned material, and singer-songwriters are defined by their adherence to original work.
Like generic boundaries themselves, such observations are easily problematized. It does not seem at all surprising, then, when a folkie-singer-songwriter such as Northeast England-based Kathryn Williams releases an album of cover versions that draws heavily on the “songbooks” of post-1960s rock and pop composers. Such songs, by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, and the Brothers Gibb are, after all, as enmeshed in the repertoire of contemporary standards as work by earlier writers such as Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, or Rodgers & Hart. Yet if this release was not altogether unexpected, it does still issue the same challenge that any covers collection demands: how to account for these versions of those songs.
It is a common practice, when discussing cover versions, to speak in terms of faithfulness or fidelity, but it is not always clear what people mean by such terms By “faithful”, do we expect the new version to be as close to the original as possible, or is it somehow truer to show one’s appreciation by radically reconfiguring the original, perhaps even making it unrecognizable? To what extent does an artist adhere to or depart from the original or most familiar version of a song? Certain much-covered artists—Bob Dylan, for example—like to take part in the game themselves, constantly reinventing their work so that the very concept of an “original version” is shattered....full text
MusicomhKathryn Williams has long been touted as one of the leading lights of the folk scene. The Liverpudlian singer garnered some ecstatic critical notices, and a Mercury Music Prize nomination, for her Little Black Numbers album and has built an admirable reputation for her lo-fi sound and self-financed albums.
Old Low Light, the follow up to Little Black Numbers, was a dark affair and it seems it took its toll on Williams. In the excellent sleevenotes that accompany Relations, she explains she undertook an album of cover versions to enable her to "fall in love with music again". Cover albums are risky affairs, but these songs are obviously close to Williams' heart - she admits to being excited at the thought that people hearing these songs for the first time will seek out the originals.
Williams' love for her material shines through on Relations. Whether it be the The Bee Gees, Pavement or The Velvet Underground that she's covering, each song is played absolutely beautifully. The spare backing from Williams' band is perfectly suited to the album as well - with Laura Reid's cello playing being particularly effective.
The opening track, In A Broken Dream, is a case in point. It's one of those songs that you probably don't realise you know until you hear it, and Williams makes it her own. The plucked acoustic guitar accompanied by Reid's cello gives the song a haunting quality - Williams' hushed vocals only add to the track's poignancy.
As ever with cover albums, some tracks work better than others. All Apologies, for instance, suffers from being so closely associated with Nirvana. Williams' rendition just sounds far too happy and upbeat, especially when compared with Kurt Cobain's definitive Unplugged In New York version....full text
BlogcriticsRelations, the second release from British singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams this year, is due out next month. Originally available in 2004 as an import, it will be available in U.S. stores for the first time starting on October 12. Her earlier 2010 release,The Quickening, garnered a good deal of critical acclaim.
Writing for Blogcritics, Jeff Perkins said: "The 12 tracks that comprise The Quickening see Kathryn's increasingly reflective writing radiate a sometimes disarming honesty." Her voice has a distinctive ethereal sound, a quasi angelic quality that often disguises the underlying angst of her lyrics.
The world described in her music is not always as sweet as the voice that sings about it. In "50 White Lines," the "road is alone, it's still and it's dark." If she can drive through it, she can vanish. In "Just a Feeling," she asks: "Is belief a scratch you've got to itch? What if love is just a feeling?" This is a world where love and belief may not be all they're cracked up to be. It's a world where "the winter is sharp" and "the harbor is dark." In a song like "Cream of the Crop," she can look to a love to pull her out of the funk, "of this bass line" she's on, but to what kind of life. The overall impression of her world is bleak. Her music is grounded in a kind of existential angst.
Given such a distinctive point of view, it is interesting that for her second release of 2010, she chose to reissue her 2004 collection of covers. She says she chose to do a cover collection because she was in a cynical state of mind at the time.
A follow-up to her 2002 Old Low Light album was due to be recorded, and she didn't want to go into the studio in that state of mind. She had been playing a gig in Regent's Park, and there was some discussion about using a few of the covers from that concert along with some new ones for an EP. She began making a list of possibilities, and they grew and grew. Not always in the way they expected: she had thought Dylan, maybe; maybe John Lennon. Neither made the final cut. Sometimes, she says, "songs just choose you."...full text
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