Dar Williams | In the Time of Gods (Razor & Tie)

It’s an idea that sounds almost fatally pretentious on its face, but the resulting album thankfully offers up tales of Greek gods and goddesses as subtle flavoring to spice up her trademark folk-pop rather than as the main course.

 

Through eight studio albums spanning nearly two decades, Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter Dar Williams has proven she can blend folk and pop—not to mention personal and political subject matter—with the same skill that Reese blends peanut butter and chocolate. But on album number nine, she decided to try something far outside her usual wheelhouse: “Why don’t I really freak out my record company,” she recalls thinking, “and make a whole album about Greek mythology?”It’s an idea that sounds almost fatally pretentious on its face, but the resulting album, In the Time of Gods, thankfully offers up tales of Greek gods and goddesses as subtle flavoring to spice up her trademark folk-pop with a new thematic depth rather than as the main course.
 
Williams’ most successful flirtation with the Greek pantheon was also the song that kicked off the whole experiment. Titled “You Will Ride With Me Tonight,” the song is sung from the perspective of Hermes as he guides an older woman to her death, telling her to hold on to him tightly before using their closeness to seduce her. Though somewhat of a story song, Williams wastes very little time getting to the point: the song takes the form of a country death song, a speedy acoustic guitar rattling along like an old car on a dirt road as banjo and slide guitar occasionally punctuate the proceedings. The whole thing breezes by in under three minutes, with the last 30 seconds as a jangling eulogy guiding her to her final fate.
 
Much of the rest of In the Time of Gods is similarly impressive, even if the whole “gods and goddesses” thing is treated more like window dressing. Williams pens a tender tribute to her husband on “I Have Been Around the World,” a gently strummed Sarah McLachlan-ish ballad using Hestia/Vesta (goddess of the hearth) as a framework to accentuate Williams’ appreciation for her husband’s patience with her frequent touring absences. Poseidon gets his turn on the minor key piano-based “The Light and the Sea,” and hunting and forest imagery (shades of Artemis, perhaps?) color the haunting “Crystal Creek.” At other times, the connection is even more difficult to suss out, such as on the melancholy opener “I Am the One Who Will Remember Everything,” where Williams mixes the story of an innocent boy growing up to become a child soldier with imagery from children’s books over an insistently strummed acoustic guitar, rich backing vocals, and cello in just the right places.
 
It helps, too, that the songs don’t overstay their welcome: only one song, “Crystal Creek,” comes close to a four minute runtime, and it’s also the only song that doesn’t quite seem to come together (the overly verbose lyrics occasionally trip over themselves). But then just as the album starts to falter, the breezy “Summer Child” comes to the rescue with a super-catchy melody that skips along like a giddy kid leaving school at the end of May. The songs on In the Time of Gods can sometimes seem a bit samey due to Williams’ use of the same skipping, folky guitar strums throughout, as well as a certain lyrical cadence that shows up on a lot of the midtempo songs, but the strength of her lyrics and the overall sturdiness of the songs ultimately wins out. A- | Jason Green
 
Official website: www.darwilliams.com

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